Release prisoners, change sentencing laws to save billions

B. Cayenne BirdGo to B. Cayenne's Home Page 

Sacramento Prison Reform Examiner 

Before any semblance of reform can be achieved in the overcrowded, overwhelmed, under-performing, understaffed, unaccountable, out-of-control, out-of-step, and in-debt California prison system, two things need to happen: prisoners must be released and sentencing laws must be changed.

Since the legislators operate the bureaucracy with dollars derived from, and budgets generated by the criminal justice system, we aren't likely to see desperately needed prisoner releases unless there is a loud enough public outcry. For years, Republican politicians have shot down good reform bills that could have saved us billions in tax dollars by lock-step voting against everything that didn't serve the interests of the law enforcement labor unions that put them into power.  Every Governor has pandered to these law enforcement labor unions. CCPOA isn't the largest of the 134 voting groups that control California, but they are certainly the most aggressive organizers.

When a reform bill rarely made it through both houses of the state legislature, Governors Wilson, Davis and Schwarzenegger would veto it 99% of the time.  These facts and voting records are public information in the state archives and at, Click on "legislation" and research it for yourself.

Laws were foisted upon Californians by the same voting group that elected the Republican lawmakers to office which were designed to expand the prisons system.  And, predictably, that's just what happened.  Now our state has all but collapsed under the expense of a humanitarian and fiscal crisis beyond measure.

Laws such as Three Strikes, Jessica's Law, and Prop 9 were fraudulently and unconstitutionally forced into place via the initiative process led by Republican politicians anxious to bolster their careers with a "tough-on-crime" image.  These initiatives, now laws, were funded by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) at a cost of billions of dollars that should be going to education and human services if reducing crime were really the goal.

Human bondage is now California's largest industry thanks to these harsh laws. Former Gov. Pete Wilson taught the lawmakers and small towns with dying economies how to build and operate scores of prisons with very little public resistance. Wilson had his eye on running for the presidency using a tough-on-crime platform, and he was able to establish his bona fides by expanding the prison industrial complex from about 20,000  in the late 1980's to 150,000 prisoners in just a few short years.  Harsh sentencing laws passed by former Gov. Jerry Brown laid the foundation for this unprecedented growth that resulted in today's fiscal and humanitarian crisis .

The deceitful, self-serving political posturing persuaded the voters that they would be safer and benefit with a massive expansion of law enforcement and prisons.    Yet violent crime has changed very little since the 1960's and there is no evidence anywhere that prisons, jails, juvenile halls or harsh laws have done one thing to reduce crime. Only a small percentage of prisoners have been convicted of violent crimes, in spite of the political rhetoric. You can view the evidence here:

No leading sociologist or criminologist believes that prisons are serving their intended purpose.  On the contrary, it seems clear that offenders who complete their sentences emerge far worse off than before incarceration.  There are several good books and leading university studies that demonstrate through empirical evidence that prisons don't work   Google up information on these online.

Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse (Studies in Crime and Public Policy  by Professor Todd R. Clear of John Jay College

 Imprisoning America: The Social Effects of Mass Incarceration by David F. Weiman

 Prison State: The Challenge of Mass Incarceration (Cambridge Studies in Criminology)

Downsizing Prisons: How to Reduce Crime and End Mass Incarceration by Michael Jacobson

The need for reform is obvious and urgent.  In future columns, I'll identify the most important changes that are required and how they can be achieved in fiscally and socially responsible ways.

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