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Friday, July 24, 2009

Memo to the bond market

Ok, I know nothing about bonds (its basically a loan, right?), but I have watched California prisons grow steadily over the second half of my now 50 years.  While it  looks certain that the California legislature will pass, and the governor sign, the complex budget compromise (read the SFChron coverage), if I were loaning money to the state on the basis of there budgetary projections, I would start worrying now.  Specifically, 1.2 billion in savings in the fiscal year is promised from cuts to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.  Republicans initially balked at voting for the overall package if it included the corrections cuts which assumed prisoner populations reductions (the dreaded early release).  They compromised at voting for the 1.2 billion cut without any specification as to how it would be obtained.  That will leave the Democratic majority free to enact specific prison policy shifts on a majority vote (rather than the 2/3 constitutionally required for budget resolutions) and the governor, theoretically willing to sign it.  But the Republicans have promised a major debate against "early release" backed by law enforcement and the correctional officer's union.  It is quiet possible that enough Democrats will defect or that Schwarzenegger will decide not to sign the bills that emerge.  More importantly, for any promise of long term sustained correctional cuts to be believable, you need to see the magic words "sentencing commission" in any package of correctional policy changes.  Short of that, do not loan us money withoug "juice loan" premiums.

Posted by Jonathan Simon on July 24, 2009 at 11:25 AM in Criminal Law | Permalink


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This approach is far more powerful politically than any driven by a "setencing commission," something that is typically a polite graveyard for bills that have lost legislative battles, although this proposal actually does seem to include one.

The budget deal comes with a mandate to take action now (the longer the wait on legislation the bigger the cuts for the rest of the fiscal year must be), a $1.2 billion budget, which translates nicely into a reduction in the prison population by about 30,000 inmates, and a great deal of freedom to do it with. The current population is about 170,000 (estimates I've seen in the mass media have varied plus or minus a few thousand).

This dovetails quite nicely with an order from a federal court in early February 2009 to reduce its prison population by 55,000 over three years. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s has said that his own proposal for prison reforms would reduce the population by about 40,000 inmates. Other estimates have been on the same order of magnitude.

The Mercury News, of Silicon Valley, for example, notes that:

"Many of Schwarzenegger's and Democrats' ideas to reduce prison crowding are what reformers have advocated for years:

Transferring sick and aged prisoners to nursing homes, where Medicare would pick up part of the cost.

Crediting time for inmates who earn a high school diploma or vocational certificate, or complete drug treatment.

Ordering home detention of some nonviolent inmates in lieu of final months in prison.

Deporting undocumented felons or transferring them to federal prisons.

Revising parole laws to stop sending nonviolent parolees back to prison on technical violations.

Redefining a handful of crimes, including receiving stolen property and writing bad checks, as misdemeanors, with time served in county jails.

Creating a commission to recommend changes in the state's tangled sentencing laws, including mandatory minimums and enhanced penalties, that have piled on costs and filled up prisons."

Posted by: ohwilleke | Jul 28, 2009 12:31:58 PM

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