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Articles on Parole
Posted on Fri, Jun. 10, 2005
State prisons ordered to restart parole programs, hike inmate pay
SACRAMENTO - Judges in Sacramento and San Diego have asserted more control over California's troubled prison system, ordering officials to reinstate parole programs and increase pay for inmate laborers.
In Sacramento, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that corrections officials violated a court-approved 2003 settlement that required reform of the state's parole system. He said they abruptly stopped using three programs as alternatives to sending parole violators back to prison.
Karlton said last month he would order the programs reinstated. He entered his formal order Thursday.
In April, Youth and Adult Correctional Secretary Roderick Hickman ended programs that diverted parole violators to halfway houses, drug treatment or electronic monitoring instead of returning them to prison. He said such diversions might endanger the public.
"Our intent all along was not to terminate the use of these sanctions permanently, but to take a hard look and roll them out again in a way that was sure to protect public safety," agency spokesman J.P. Tremblay said. "That's what we'll do."
Hickman and other corrections officials said the programs hadn't been given time to work because of a series of administrative delays.
Ernest Galvan, one of the attorneys who sued on parolees' behalf, said he was pleased by the decision, even though Karlton declined to hold Hickman in contempt for violating the settlement.
"California has had a one-size-fits-all approach to parole violators, with reincarceration the only hammer in the toolbox. That's fine when there's a public safety risk. But for other parole violators, there are better options," Galvan told the Los Angeles Times.
Critics said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger bowed to pressure from victims' rights groups and the powerful prison guards union.
Also Thursday, San Diego County Superior Court Judge William C. Pate threatened to hold corrections officials in contempt unless they comply with his orders on running a prison labor program. His ruling includes an order that they pay inmate workers more money.
A year ago, Pate ordered the Department of Corrections to require private employers to increase wages for inmate workers and to post bonds to make sure they comply. Pate set a new deadline of June 30 for the state to comply.
In 1990, voters approved a ballot measure letting private employers hire prisoners. The inmates' pay was to be split five ways - between the inmate, their family, a restitution fund, victims and the state.
All of those entities are shortchanged if employers are allowed to pay inmates less than regular employees, said Robert Berke, a civil rights attorney who has sued the state over its running of the program.
In Imperial County, for example, the entry-level wage for production workers is $9.53 an hour, but the state has suggested paying prisoners $6.75 an hour.
"The inmates and the taxpayers are being cheated," Berke said.
The program has faltered in recent years, with only several hundred of the state's 163,000 prisoners involved.
ON THE NET
California Youth and Adult Correctional Agency: http://www.yaca.ca.gov
Little Hoover Commission: http://www.bsa.ca.gov/lhc.html
California Correctional Peace Officers Association: http://www.ccpoanet.org/
Crime Victims United of California: http://www.crimevictimsunited.com
Posted on Wed, Mar. 02, 2005
Parole reforms finally in sight, corrections officials say
SACRAMENTO - After two years of delays, corrections officials said Wednesday they are finally moving toward reforms in parole programs that lag most other states.
Lawmakers, parole officers and inmate advocates criticized prison officials for not acting more quickly, and for making promises they couldn't keep - failed pledges that have driven up the Department of Corrections' budget and population the last two years.
"I'm just stunned that we're barely beginning. That was two years ago" that prison officials agreed to make sweeping changes, said Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, who chaired Wednesday's joint hearing of her corrections budget and oversight committees.
Moreover, the department seems to be acting now only because legislators and the government watchdog Little Hoover Commission pushed for reforms. The commission in 2003 labeled the parole system a "billion-dollar failure," one of a series of scathing reviews of the state's youth and adult correctional system.
"I keep thinking, why didn't we do this decades ago?" said Romero, D-Los Angeles. "As my daughter would say, 'Duh. When you deal with corrections you have to deal with parole.' The initiative has got to come from you."
James L'Etoile, the department's new deputy director for adult parole and community services, blamed bureaucratic delays, problems with private contractors, negotiations with unions, and overly optimistic time and financial projections. He took over in December after Youth and Adult Correctional Secretary Roderick Q. Hickman transferred his predecessor for failing to move swiftly enough.
L'Etoile said many of the reforms will be on track this year, in time to trim the inmate and parole populations and the department's budget.
_ giving parole officers more options to punish parole violators short of sending them back to prison;
_ more pre- and post-release counseling, training and treatment to help ex-convicts fit in with society;
_ using electronic monitoring to track more parolees;
_ ending parole after a year for ex-cons with a good release record.
A key component is expanding the 12-month discharge policy, which was supposed to trim the number of parolees by 20,000 a year, the number of returning inmates by 8,000, and eventually cut the department's budget by several hundred million dollars.
Because of delays, the department now is projecting this year a reduction by 500 inmates, 10,000 parolees, and $30 million.
But L'Etoile said some programs are in place. About 22,000 offenders are getting more help as they re-enter society, for instance, and the percentage of parolees returned to prison has fallen to its lowest level in 11 years: 47.3 percent, down from nearly 59 percent.
Lawmakers and inmate advocates also were critical of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to cut $95 million from education and other programs even as he promotes rehabilitation as a new corrections goal.
L'Etoile said the department and administration are trying to pare the
money from ineffective programs.
Parolee arrest pattern changes
Fewer held for violations, while more imprisoned for new crimes. By Andy Furillo -- Bee Capitol Bureau Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, February 27, 2005Five times, police and parole agents got hold of Justin Graham Corkins - once for leaving town without permission, twice for being drunk, once for being under the influence of crank and once for failing to report for drug treatment.Finally, they shuffled the paroled burglar with a drug history into a substance abuse program. It kept him off the streets for a month. But never did they revoke his parole.OAS_AD ('Button20');
Drunk again and speeding through south Bakersfield in his girlfriend's 1991 Ford Escort, Corkins on Jan. 16 ran into a 23- year-old self-employed cleaning woman named Charlette Martina Hopkings and killed her, police reports said.Now sitting in the Kern County jail and facing vehicular manslaughter and other charges, Corkins is one of more than 2,000 parolees in California who appear to have avoided prison last year under new policies instituted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration.
The policies are designed to dramatically reduce the number of offenders reincarcerated on technical violations of their release terms and instead redirect them into programs to allow parolees to maintain their family and job connections and smooth their transition back into society.
As of Dec. 31, there were 2,529 fewer inmates in prison on parole violations, or 4.1 percent less, than in 2003, Department of Corrections officials said. At the same time, there were 2,141 more parolees who had been incarcerated for new crimes, an increase of 13.6 percent.Corrections officials said they could not immediately determine how many of those 2,141 parolees had previously violated their parole but were allowed to remain free under the governor's new parole policy.
Nor could they determine how many of them were reimprisoned, like Corkins, on homicide charges.But line parole agents say the statistics are no coincidence, and that as many as half the parolees caught for new crimes had previously been set free despite committing violations.
Interviews with parole agents as well as Department of Corrections records and documents obtained by The Bee reveal examples of the types of offenders returned to the streets: a San Bernardino career criminal now accused of raping two women and a Kern County burglar released after testing positive for methamphetamine who went on to beat up his wife.
Charlette Martina Hopkings is one person whose death is linked to the policy, and it makes her aunt's blood boil."If you're violated five times for basically the same things, what the hell does it take, a hammer over the head, to make you think this guy might actually hurt somebody?" asked Hopkings' aunt, Camelia Ward. "When that person happens to be my niece, I want to slap the people who aren't making sure this is taken care of. ... You have to put the shackles on at some point."Rod Hickman, secretary of the governor's Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, called Hop-kings' death "tragic."
He said the new parole policy, which he unveiled in a press conference last May 11, has "not been as successful as we'd like" in getting its alternative sanctions up and running. He said "the jury is out" on whether the state's new philosophical approach is working as intended.But Hickman also said that even if Corkins had his parole revoked and was returned to prison for a year, there's no guarantee he wouldn't have run over and killed somebody at the later date. Moreover, the secretary added, the state still has an obligation to do a better job of trying to use the parole system to redirect the lives of California's criminals.
"In so much as people are going to get out, we have to do something
to see they don't reoffend and revictimize," Hickman said. "The other option
is to lock them up forever and pay the cost forever. I don't think that
is the right thing from a public policy standpoint."Corrections officials
rolled out the new policy last spring, after the Little Hoover Commission
issued a report in November 2003 blasting the parole system as "a billion-dollar
failure" for returning so many offenders to prison - 67 percent, nearly
twice the national average
.To reduce the recidivism rate, the Department of Corrections' parole division devised a five-part package that included electronic monitoring, community-based halfway houses and 30-day residential substance abuse treatment programs.Last year, the strategy resulted in the decreasing number of technical parole violators returned to prison and an increasing number of parolees who were reincarcerated for new crimes.
Dwight Streeter, a parole agent in San Diego, said it used to be a matter of course that if a violent offender as much as changed residences without telling the office, he'd get bounced back to prison.
"But with the policy the way it is now, we're not bringing them back in on the technical violation," Streeter said. "Then they ultimately get caught doing something more serious."Scott Johnson, president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association chapter for the prison system's 3,000-plus parole agents, estimated that as many as half the parolees going back to prison for new crimes had previously been set free despite committing violations."We're lowering our (return to custody) rate," Johnson said.
"But I don't know if that is protecting the community."Parole agents say a San Bernardino case involving a paroled robber named Royce Timmons vividly illustrates Johnson's point.
Timmons, 46, a six-time felon with prior convictions for assault with a deadly weapon and carjacking, was paroled last March 4, according to the Department of Corrections. Timmons could have been sent to prison for a year in July for changing residences without telling his parole agent. Instead, he was reincarcerated for only two months and released in September into drug treatment.
Timmons completed the program. But in January, the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office says, he went on a crime spree in which he stabbed his girlfriend, carjacked and raped another woman, kidnapped and raped a third and carjacked a fourth victim.
In California City in Kern County, paroled burglar Jermaine Curtis, 24, tested positive for methamphetamine in March but was continued on parole. In June, police issued a warrant for his arrest on suspicion of beating his wife. He fled to Georgia, where he was arrested and returned to California.Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez, D-Norwalk, himself a parole agent who is on leave while he holds elective office, called the new parole policy a "do-not-lock- up-at-all-costs model."
"We even get calls from (parole) supervisors who tell us the administration is calling the shots, and if their (return) rates are high, they get written up," Bermudez said.
"But that is the new parole model. I believe (the administration is) no longer providing public safety as a consequence of this model."University of California, Irvine, criminologist Joan Petersilia, a consultant for the Department of Corrections, said there is currently "a great deal of pressure" on line agents "to not use a great deal of prison space" for what she called "true technicals." She said the pressure "fits in" with what parole agents also are seeing - more crimes being committed by parolees who had been continued on parole."Our intermediate sanctions are just not intensive enough," Petersilia said of the drug programs, the halfway houses and the electronic monitoring.
"They need to be beefed up."Justin Corkins - the 27-year-old man accused of running over and killing Charlette Hopkings - could have been rung up five different times, but never was, corrections documents show.On Aug. 14, 2003 - six months after he was paroled after serving half of a two-year sentence for burglary - Corkins was found to have traveled more than 50 miles beyond his residence. On Oct. 9, 2003, he was arrested for being drunk in public.
On Dec. 19, 2003, he tested positive for methamphetamine. Last June 7, he was drunk in public again.In each instance, Corkins was continued on parole.Corkins' parole agent ordered him to enroll in an alcohol/chemical treatment program after the June 7 incident. But documents show he was kicked out of the program after he racked up three unexcused absences. On Sept. 23, he was placed in a "substance abuse treatment control unit" - an intermediate sanction that includes a 30-day residential stay and 90 days of aftercare.
Acting parole director Jim L'Etoile said the programs like the one Corkins completed represent "probably our weakest program component" in the new parole model. "It does not offer the intensive treatment in terms of program duration and intensity that a drug-involved parolee requires," L'Etoile said.On Jan. 16, less than three months after he got out of his substance abuse program, Corkins ran over and killed Hopkings, Kern County authorities have charged. Police reports estimated his speed at 50 mph, down South Chester Avenue near downtown Bakersfield. Corkins' blood alcohol level registered at 0.199, more than twice the legal limit, the reports said.Hopkings and her friend Lily Randle were crossing the street to go to the store to buy some cigarettes when police said Corkins' car came barreling toward them."From the sound of the car, it seemed like he just put his feet to the gas," Randle said.
"That car idled up - rrrrrr. That's what made us react and run. I moved forward. She turned and looked."Corkins has been charged with vehicular manslaughter, drunk driving and driving with a suspended or revoked license. A possible second-striker, he faces a maximum 19- year term if convicted.His mother, Patricia Corkins, of Porterville, said the defendant is bipolar and had been "self-medicating" with alcohol. His record shows eight arrests and two convictions on drug charges. She said she was unaware of his previous contacts with parole and police after he got out of prison and before the fatal accident."(The system) has a lot of loopholes," Patricia Corkins said. "Unfortunately, I've got a kid who has fallen through them."Camelia Ward, the aunt of the woman whom Corkins is accused of killing, said "I don't want to be harsh," and said that she thinks parolees ought to be given a break."But if we give you a chance and you fail at what we've ordered you to do, if you don't do the program, you have to go," Ward said. "We've given you a chance to change the direction of your life, and you've refused. That makes you a danger to everyone around you."
About the writer: The Bee's Andy Furillo can be reached at (916) 321-1141
or email@example.com .
Juvenile board runs out of cash
Greg Lucas, Sacramento Bureau Chief
Friday, March 7, 2003
Sacramento -- The board that decides whether juvenile wards of the state should be paroled has run out of money and will partially shutter its operations beginning today. The budget problems for the Youthful Offender Parole Board stem from a yearlong fight between Gov. Gray Davis and Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, over the board's performance. Burton insists that the board is cavalier and out of touch with California Youth Authority programs and that its duties should be given to local juvenile courts.
Davis says that stripping responsibility from the board would burden counties and lead to different parole policies in each locality. Last year, Davis vetoed a bill sponsored by Burton that would have shifted some of the board's power to local juvenile court judges. To encourage Davis to sign the measure, Burton had placed six months of funding for the board in the budget and the remaining $1.6 million in his bill.
Davis' veto meant the seven-member board would run out of money in January. The Democratic governor has also left two slots on the board vacant for over a year, one for nearly two years. The board has lurched along since January, said Steve Green, a spokesman for the Youth and Adult Corrections Agency, but now the money is gone. Civil servants will continue to be paid, but Davis appointees to the board won't, Green said. No travel expenses will be paid, and neither will the phone company or the board's landlord. "We're unfunded. We've been conducting our hearings without pay for February," said Raul Galindo, the board's chair. "Hopefully, there will be some resolution so we can adequately do our jobs."
Annual parole hearings for youth authority inmates who committed serious crimes will be postponed, said Green, because those hearings require a gubernatorial appointee's participation. "I think this will be resolved within days, not months," Green said. The Davis administration said it began negotiating with Burton on a compromise shortly after the veto in September. Burton and others don't remember it like that. "They never once talked to us about the veto. When it was vetoed our people contacted them and said where do we go from here?" Burton said. "We never heard one word from them until the first week in January, at which time all they said was give us the money."
Even so, Burton agrees a compromise is close that would be similar to a bill he introduced earlier this year to move the board back into the youth authority, where it was from 1941 to 1980. "The place is long overdue for reform and that's what's going to happen, one way or another," Burton said. Under the potential compromise, the board would still be independently appointed by the governor, but its decisions would be reviewed by the juvenile court judge who handled the inmate's case.
E-mail Greg Lucas at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Legislators backpedal on felons' release
SACRAMENTO – Felons serving time for attempted carjacking, assault with a machine gun or acid and other serious crimes would be eligible to get out of prison a couple of weeks earlier than their intended release dates under a bill the Legislature has sent to Gov. Gray Davis.
The legislation intends to save the state about $70 million as it deals with a revenue shortfall Davis estimates at $34.6 billion.
Republicans, who say they weren't given a chance to fully understand the bill before it went to a vote, on Tuesday asked the governor to veto it.
"This ought to outrage everyone," said Assemblyman and reserve police officer Ken Maddox, R-Costa Mesa.
Davis has said he does not want to release prisoners early as a budget-balancing tactic, but has not yet acted on the bill.
State law currently allows some felons to reduce their prison time by working or going to school. Each such day is a day cut from their sentences. The new legislation would let those days begin accruing earlier in their sentences - as soon as they were incarcerated - instead of having to wait until they arrived at their final prison destination. Moreover, it would allow inmates already in the system to simply declare that they would have done the work or gone to the classes early in their prison term had the law then allowed it.
For most inmates, it would mean seeing their sentences shaved by 10 days to a month, penal officials said.
The bill applies to first-time felons convicted of serious felonies, which under the state Penal Code include various types of assault, non-gang- related extortion and attempted carjacking. The bill does not include those convicted of violent felonies, which under the code include murder and rape.
Prison officials could not say Tuesday how many of the state's 302,000 inmates would qualify under the law, but budget analysts say the measure would save 5,300 "inmate years."
Democrats did not target a specific beneficiary of the $70 million that would be saved, but high on their list of programs they want to spare are homeless shelters, child- support services and medical supplies for the poor.
The bill was introduced in the Senate on Jan. 27, did not get a committee hearing, and was passed by the full Senate on Jan. 30 by a 24-15 party-line vote. It passed the Assembly on Feb. 4 on a 42-38 vote. By that time, some Democratic opposition formed, and five Assembly Democrats, including Lou Correa of Anaheim, voted no.
Republicans said they were assured that "violent" felons were not included in the bill, but said they did know then that the Penal Code defined those convicted of carjacking and some assault crimes among the merely "serious" felons whom the bill did allow to get out early.
While the Republicans are in the minority and alone could not have prevented the bill from passing, had they known about the contents earlier, they might have persuaded more law-and-order Democrats into voting against the measure.
Republicans complain that the haste of the special budget-cutting session of the Legislature does not allow them to properly analyze bills.
"We are not as engaged as much as we should be," said Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Mission Viejo.
Democrats who favor the bill say they are simply allowing slightly early releases to inmates who could have earned the necessary school and work credits anyway had their official prison time started when they actually went into custody.
To weed out those convicted of the specific felonies that Republicans have highlighted would take separate legislation to revise the Penal Code.
"If they want to have a debate about the Penal Code, we're all for it," said Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez, D-Bellflower.
While the legislation would save money, Bermudez, a former prison guard, said it also would help guards better control inmates by giving them an incentive to behave.
But Maddox fears the bill would allow inmates who had no intention of working or going to school to earn credits for them anyway by claiming that they wanted to.
"The kind of people that we're talking about worked really hard to get to state prison and have engaged in a life of crime," Maddox said. "I doubt that someone who is doing time for burglary would suddenly decide not to," no matter when they were released, he said.
For once, Davis and the Republicans in the Legislature might be in agreement.
Besides not wanting to release prisoners early, Davis doesn't like other
spending-cut bills attached to the early-release bill and has threatened
to veto the entire package.
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Jerry Brown's about-face on criminal sentencing
Janine DeFao, Chronicle Staff Writer
Unable to quell the violence that pushed Oakland's homicide rate to a seven-year high last year, Mayor Jerry Brown has pointed a finger at state prisons for dumping unprepared, unreformed parolees back on the city's streets.
"That is a total reversal of what used to be the practice in California," Brown said in his state-of-the-city address last month. "Under the indeterminate sentencing law, an inmate did not get even a date, let alone get released, unless there was a plan for a job, housing and where this individual was going."
What Brown has failed to mention is that he played a critical role in instituting the system that has now drawn his ire.
As California's governor more than 25 years ago, Brown signed the law scrapping indeterminate sentencing, trading the longtime system in which inmates had to prove they were ready to leave prison for one in which most prisoners simply walk out the door when their time is up.
Now the mayor of Oakland plans to propose state legislation for a "move
back toward more indeterminacy in the sentencing process" that could include
mandatory education and job training for prisoners.
'YOU TRY SOMETHING ELSE'
Jerome Skolnick, a criminologist and law professor at New York University, called Brown's reversal ironic.
"A governor doesn't deal with crime. He deals with the corrections system. A mayor deals with crime," Skolnick said. "Jerry Brown is in a position as mayor where he has to deal with crime, and he realizes this was a big mistake."
When Brown became governor in 1975, indeterminate sentencing had been the foundation of the state's prison system for nearly 60 years. Convicted criminals were given broad sentences -- such as five years to life -- and then had to convince a parole board that they were rehabilitated and ready for release, with a plan for life on the outside.
But the system was coming under fire from all sides. Prisoners and their advocates said the parole board's decisions were arbitrary, even racist. Prison officials said sentences with no end in sight were fueling frustration and violence in prisons. And academics said there was no evidence the state's efforts at rehabilitation worked.
As the state Legislature began debating changes to the law, Brown's
administration took matters into its own hands and started issuing fixed
release dates for prisoners using formulas based on the average time served
for particular crimes.
LEGISLATURE STEPS IN
While supporters far outnumbered critics, those in opposition feared that fixed sentences would mean the release of dangerous criminals and an end to rehabilitation, with the incentive of early release removed -- both problems with which Brown is now grappling.
The law, in fact, changed the purpose of the prison system from rehabilitation to punishment.
Brown was among those questioning whether rehabilitation worked. "I think you should rehabilitate jails, not people," he said at the time.
"I was skeptical about state social engineering of human beings," Brown said in a recent interview. "I'm impressed with people's free will and persistence in whatever behaviors they choose."
But Brown is now contemplating whether inmates should be required to participate in rehabilitation programs, ranging from education to vocational training. He is working with state Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, on legislation to be introduced this session.
Brown said the sheer number of prisoners -- which has grown from 22,000 in 1975 to 161,000 today -- and the fact that 71 percent of California's inmates land back in prison within 18 months, dictates that something be done. More than 125,000 prisoners were released last year.
"My minimum position is that there are tens of thousands of people who can be worked with and who will equip themselves with skills that will enable them to get off this merry-go-round," he said. "They come out, they've got a seventh-grade education. All they know how to do is sell dope and hustle."
Brown set his sights on the prisons last year after Oakland voters rejected
his proposal to raise taxes to pay for 100 new police officers.
Nearly 1 in 5 of last year's 113 homicide victims was on parole, as were 14 percent of the suspects arrested. The numbers nearly triple if those on probation are included.
"There are some pretty serious public-safety consequences as a result" of ending indeterminate sentencing, said Joan Petersilia, a criminology professor at UC Irvine. "It was probably one of the biggest mistakes we in the California criminal justice community made . . . and it's being played out in Oakland."
While Petersilia lobbied for the change at the time, she now advocates a return to indeterminate sentencing and a re-emphasis on rehabilitation programs, which she said are sorely lacking in California's prisons.
Under state law, all able-bodied prisoners already are required to work or participate in education or substance-abuse programs, said Margot Bach, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections.
But "unfortunately, it's not the reality. We probably have more inmates who would like to work than we have places for them," Bach said. And "you cannot force someone to take academic programs."
About half of all inmates were in jobs or training in December, according to corrections figures. Some 35 percent are ineligible for programs for security, health and other reasons, officials said.
Thirty percent of all prisoners held jobs ranging from making furniture to eyeglasses for the Prison Industry Authority to working as clerks or gardeners.
Nine percent participated in more than 65 vocational training programs from coffee roasting to computer refurbishing. Eight percent were in academic courses, including literacy and GED programs, and 5 percent were in drug treatment.
But nearly 21,000 inmates were on waiting lists for jobs and programs, nearly 20 percent of those eligible, bolstering the argument of Brown and other prison critics that there are not enough programs. Only 3,557 inmates earned their GED in 2001.
Inmates are paid for prison jobs and can earn time off their sentences for participating in both jobs and programs, but they still are required to serve 50 percent of sentences for nonviolent crimes and 85 percent for violent crimes, Bach said.
Critics say it is not enough incentive to get prisoners into meaningful activities.
Brown also has said too little is done to prepare inmates for release, compared with the previous system in which the parole board reviewed an "extensive evaluation document" before letting a prisoner go home.
"They don't make them have a re-entry plan. They don't give them a game plan," Brown said. "They give them $200 and a bus pass."
According to Raul Romero, assistant superintendent of correctional education for the Corrections Department, more than 46,000 inmates participated in a three- to six-week re-entry course covering topics from money management to searching for a job, about 36 percent of those paroled in 2001. But Petersilia said the quality of those programs varies and can be little more than a video no one is watching. The effectiveness of the programs is certainly called into question by the fact that nearly three-fourths of those released will be jailed again.
"There's been a lot of anti-crime rhetoric," Brown said. "It has resulted in hundreds and thousands of people being detained in prisons and jails where they learn to become even more effective and, in many instances, more dangerous criminals."
E-mail Janine DeFao at firstname.lastname@example.org .
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle
Criminal Justice and the California Deficit
Parole the elderly
Amid the intensifying battle in Sacramento over California's budget deficit, Gov. Gray Davis is coming under fire for his proposal to cut funds for schools and health care while boosting spending on prisons. Davis says preserving public safety requires no less.
But there's at least one safe, simple and immediate thing the state could do that would save millions: parole inmates who are too old to be dangerous.
Inmates are expensive, and none more so than elderly ones. The average prisoner costs California taxpayers more than $26,000 a year. But elderly inmates typically cost up to three times more, primarily because of their greater medical needs. Many older prisoners are five to 10 years "older" physiologically than chronologically, their bodies prematurely worn down from years of alcohol and drug abuse and the stress of prison life. According to the Washington-based Project for Older Prisoners, the average convict over 55 - - considered geriatric among prison experts -- will suffer three chronic illnesses while incarcerated. And taxpayers foot every penny of their medical bills.
That's no small matter in a state where the correctional system has grown to gargantuan proportions. Ten years ago, California incarcerated some 115,000 inmates; today, it holds more than 160,000, at an annual cost exceeding $5 billion.
Health care costs have grown even faster: The Department of Corrections will spend more than $900 million on total medical expenses this year, triple the amount of a decade ago. That's partly because the number of elderly prisoners has also roughly tripled in the last decade, the result of baby-boom demographics and ever-lengthening sentences. California now holds more than 6, 000 prisoners older than 55, many of them already in such dismal health that they couldn't commit new crimes if they wanted to. If you move the bar up to age 70, that still leaves 503 inmates. Paroling just those septuagenarians could save tens of millions of dollars annually.
Of course, not every prisoner over 55 can be safely released. Many have committed serious crimes and are in good enough health that they need to be locked up. But in general, paroling ailing elderly prisoners appears a pretty safe bet. The recidivism rate is less than 2 percent for prisoners over 55, according to federal Bureau of Justice research. And the cost of monitoring a convict on parole is about a tenth that of keeping one in prison. There's a noncash bonus, too: Letting sick, feeble old men and women live out their last days at home with their families is more humane than letting them slowly disintegrate in cellblocks filled with predatory younger inmates.
Several other cash-strapped states are already releasing nonviolent offenders to save money or are considering doing so, including such law-and- order bastions as Arkansas and Oklahoma. And California, like many states, already has on the books little-used policies allowing for compassionate release of sick or elderly inmates deemed harmless.
Davis, however, has firmly declared his opposition to early release for convicts. That's no surprise, given how beholden he is to the state's powerful prison guards' union, which handed him more than $1 million in campaign contributions last year alone.
But Davis is facing a fight from legislators -- including Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco -- who support the notion of releasing unthreatening inmates. The Senate recently passed a bill that, among other correctional money-saving measures, would allow nonviolent inmates to be paroled one month early and prohibit those convicted of petty theft from being sentenced to prison.
Nobody wants to see dangerous felons let loose just to save money. But letting hundreds of old men and women in poor health go home, under the scrutiny of parole agents, hardly seems like much of a threat. Would we really rather keep old convicts behind bars than keep full funding for kindergartens and hospitals?
Vince Beiser is a San Francisco-based journalist who writes often on prison and criminal justice issues.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle
Orange County Register
Sell land, axe the perks
The Legislature, Gov. Gray Davis and state bureaucrats should investigate every way to cut the state's $35 billion budget deficit over the next 18 months. Ideas are beginning to percolate:
Consider release of certain non-violent prisoners. Citing numbers from the Department of Corrections, the San Jose Mercury News reported that, of the 160,000 inmates in state prisons, "61 percent are considered nonviolent offenders. ... Some 670 are between 65 and 69 years old while about 500 are older than 70." Parole would be a better option for such older inmates.
Cut perks going to bureaucrats and state employees. New Board of Equalization member Carole Migden said she decided against tooling around the state in a Caddy paid for by taxpayers. Instead, she'll "lease or buy a car at her own expense," reported the Mercury News on Monday. Another new board member, Bill Leonard, also cancelled his Ford Explorer.
Others should do the same. They can be reimbursed for mileage on their private autos.
Sell state land. With California property
prices sky-high, now is the time to sell a good chunk of the 2.5 million
acres owned by the state. Only auctions would tell how much could be fetched,
but the San Mateo County Times reports the property could be worth "hundreds
of millions of dollars."
Davis OKs parole for only third prisoner
STEVE LAWRENCE, Associated Press Writer Monday, December 23, 2002
(12-23) 16:06 PST SACRAMENTO (AP) -- Gov. Gray Davis approved the parole of a 71-year-old inmate Monday, marking only the third time he has upheld a parole date set by the state Board of Prison Terms. Davis' announcement that he did not object to the March 21 release of Chu Ly of Stockton came six days after the state Supreme Court said he had broad powers to block paroles. Ly was sentenced to 15 years to life for second-degree murder in the March 1987 shooting of 21-year-old Christopher Dabbs, who allegedly had been vandalizing cars in Ly's Laotian neighborhood. Ly, who is being held at the California Men's Colony near San Luis Obispo, said he was only trying to scare Dabbs and his companion when he fired a shot in their direction and denied saying "good" when the bullet hit Dabbs.
Ly said he couldn't speak English at the time. He also disputed an account that had him hiding in a van to wait for the youths. Davis rejected a parole date for Ly back in January but said he reconsidered after the Stockton police chief, prosecutors and the judge in the case supported Ly's release. The governor also said that Ly and his neighbors had been repeatedly targeted by "hate-related" crimes and had been unable to get help from the police. A San Joaquin County deputy district attorney, Robert Himelblau, testified at Ly's parole hearing that the vandalism was premeditated because Dabbs "did not like Asians or blacks." Himelblau said his office did not support or oppose Ly's parole, although he thought Davis made the right decision.
He said he testified at the parole hearing to correct errors in the record. "It's one of those delicate political tightropes that people have to walk," he said. San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge William Murray Jr., a former deputy district attorney, wrote the Board of Prison Terms that he wholeheartedly supported parole for Ly. He said that when he was a prosecutor he offered to let Ly plead guilty to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, but that Ly refused because he believed that any admission of guilt would mean he would be immediately executed. "To be sure, Mr. Ly's crime is unjustifiable," Davis said in a review of the case.
"However, I am struck by the fact that the prosecutors have provided a very different picture of the circumstances surrounding the shooting than suggested by the file during my last review of this case. "Also, I believe the repeated provocation and lack of police intervention placed Mr. Ly under significant stress that had been building over a long period of time. Notably, Mr. Ly had no criminal record prior to the life offense and his psychological evaluators have found that he is not a criminally minded individual." Dabbs' family did not attend the parole hearing to protest Ly's release, said Stephen Green, a spokesman for the state's Youth and Adult Correctional Agency.
Himelblau suggested that Davis had no choice but to approve the parole
under the narrow restrictions on his powers cited in last week's Supreme
Court ruling, but Green disagreed. The decision "says the governor can
consider the seriousness of the crime and that in itself is enough to deny
parole," Green said. Davis has rejected 166 paroles approved by the Board
of Prison Terms since he took office in 1999, said Davis spokesman Byron
Tucker. The only two previous paroles approved by the governor were for
abused women who killed men they said had threatened their children.
Parolees in revolving door
Jim Herron Zamora, Chronicle Staff Writer
Since his first arrest at age 19, Gary Johnson has been in prison six times, mainly for drugs or minor parole violations. On the streets, he's been shot twice. Behind bars he was stabbed twice by other inmates.
But he's not a murderer, rapist or robber -- just a two-bit drug offender who keeps offending and then returning home to his mom's couch.
"I don't really have any big dreams," said Johnson, 42, who began a new drug counseling program last month after parole agents spotted him hanging out on a street corner. "I'd be very happy if I could just stay outside (prison), maybe get some kind of job. I'm too old for this: It's wearing on me."
With ex-cons being blamed for helping drive up crime across California, a growing number of critics point to California's revolving-door prison policy --
which does little to help nonviolent drug offenders back into society.
"About half of inmates are going to reoffend and end up incarcerated no matter what you do," said Mario Paparozzi, former chairman of the New Jersey Parole Board. "The hard part of our business is what do you do with that other half."
Last year, 126,000 prisoners in California were released -- six times more than in 1975 -- and most of them had little preparation for life on the outside.
Before the mid-1970s, most sentences were indeterminate, meaning that most inmates could get off much earlier than their original sentence if they completed vocational or academic classes in addition to good behavior.
The state replaced that system with one lacking an incentive for inmates to take classes or get counseling to help them prepare for life outside prison.
Now, virtually everyone released from prison spends three years on parole. Most -- about 71 percent -- end up back in prison within 18 months -- the nation's highest recidivism rate and nearly double the average of all other states.
But their average stay back in prison is only five months, and some experts wonder whether California is just postponing crime rather than solving it.
"If you put somebody back in prison for only a few months, all you have
done is postponed the inevitable return to the streets of a convict who
is unprepared for society," said Paparozzi, now a criminology professor
at the College of New Jersey.
STATE PRISONS' MISSION
"California law dictates that the purpose of prison is punishment," she said. "We offer opportunities for those willing to change. Those willing to take responsibility for their actions are the ones who improve, and we will help them."
But critics say other states, including New York and Texas, have succeeded in being tough on violent criminals while reducing recidivism among nonviolent drug offenders.
"We are trying get the violent felons into prison and use other sanctions
for the nonviolent offenders," said Tom Grant, spokesman of the New York
Division of Parole. "A dirty drug test would not send you back into a correctional
setting in New York. It might get you into drug treatment program. "
PAROLEES FILL PRISONS
"Having a zero-tolerance approach to technical violations really means you've given up on preparing these inmates for life outside prison," said Paparozzi. "With this approach, California may want to just abolish parole and keep everyone in prison for a couple more years."
In 1980, 21 percent of those entering prison were parole violators, evenly split between technical violations and new offenses. By 2000, 69 percent of those entering in prison were parolees; 57 percent for technical parole violations and 12 percent for new felony convictions.
That overall rate is about double the national average for parolees re- entering state prison. And California is the only state where most people entering prison are not there for committing new crimes.
"(We are) looking at ways to reduce the high number of parolees that return to prison for technical violations," said Nancy Lyons, deputy executive director of Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight agency. "California stands alone from all the other states when it comes to revocation rates."
The commission plans hearings on parole reforms Jan. 23 and Feb. 27 in Sacramento.
"California made an expensive policy choice to put more people in prison instead of trying other alternatives," said Jeremy Travis of the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank, who has co-authored several recent studies on recidivism and parole in California.
"The question is really whether you can afford that policy anymore. . . . I don't think California can afford to build more prisons in the current economic environment."
From the late 1970s to the late 1990s, California added more prison cells than any state in U.S. history. But spending on parole agents lagged, according to state data analyzed by UC Irvine Professor Joan Petersilia.
In 1997, California cut spending on parole services by 44 percent, nearly doubling parole caseloads to more than 70-to-1, according to Petersilia's 2000 report for the California Policy Research Center.
That leaves agents little time for anything but rounding up violators. Statewide, authorities have lost track of 1 in 5 parolees.
Only 5 percent of California's prisoners complete a re-entry program before they are released from prison, and fewer than a quarter of them get education or vocational training while in prison, according to Petersilia's study.
"So many people come out of prison with nothing but $200 and a head full of anger," said Ron Owens, an ex-convict who now counsels parolees. "They don't learn to be better people on the outside. They only know how to function on the inside."
Oakland has more nonprofits to help inmates and their families than any other city in California, parole officials said.
Every Wednesday, representatives from a dozen organizations make presentations to 50 newly released inmates who are required to attend.
But parole agents cannot force the ex-convicts to participate. Most show initial interest but about 90 percent fail to follow though.
Parolees, agents and counselors said inmates who go directly from highly structured and regulated life in prison back to their old neighborhoods lack the self-discipline to change.
"In prison, we are willing to beg for a job flipping pancakes for 6 cents an hour, but outside we'll never think of filling out a job application at an IHOP," said Kevin Grant, an ex-convict who oversees a re-entry program.
"Inside we know how to be good prisoners, follow the rules. But outside, we just lose it all and act like fool kids again."
Ex-convicts say it's tough to change their stripes. Gary Johnson has lost count of how many re-entry programs he has quit.
"I've wasted a lot of time in programs that didn't really help me," he said.
"But I've wasted a lot more time on street corners."
E-mail Jim Zamora at email@example.com
January 12, 2002
NO-PAROLE POLICY IGNORES EXPERTISE
Editor - Regarding the article, "A life behind bars" (Jan. 5): As a
California resident, I find our
There are reasons why, as taxpayers, we provide for people with expertise
in a variety of fields to
In the case of Julius Domantay, Gov. Gray Davis found the psychological
assessments recommending parole "less than convincing," and in conference
with no one declared Domantay's parole an "unreasonable risk." Why are
we paying for the services of parole board officials while our governor
refuses to let them do their jobs? As far as I can see, Davis' no-parole
policy is wholly a politically motivated one, in the interests of neither
public safety nor criminal rehabilitation, but of the governor himself.
MARK C. EADES
Sample Letters on AB 280 [Parole]