It has been almost a year since California began overhauling its overcrowded prison system. The goal: to shed more than 30,000 inmates from in-state prisons and cut the prison budget. But critics in law enforcement and elsewhere fear the reforms may lead to higher crime. As part of the KQED News series “Prison Break,” we’ll discuss the realignment program. How has it fared so far?

Matthew Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Michael Montgomery, reporter for KQED News and public safety reporter for California Watch
Dan Macallair, executive director and co-founder of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice
Allen Hopper, criminal justice and drug policy director for the ACLU of Northern California

  • I have been volunteering to work in prison over the summer as an instructor at San Quentin, and one thing which has become even more apparent than before during my work there is the absurdities caused by the 3 strikes law. Instead of forcing prisoners onto the counties, the victims of the 3 strikes law should be released early. Otherwise, we are simply plowing more and more of our precious state finances into an overcrowded behemoth of a prison system, and we are punishing people exceedingly harshly for petty and minor crimes. 25 years for petty theft is both cruel and unusual.

    Forcing it on the local community jails doesn’t help either because counties are facing the same budget shortfalls that the state is facing. Instead of quivering in our shoes about all these “criminals” getting an early release we should finally accept the social responsibility for the people who have been imprisoned for 25 years.

  • $22911251

    Evidence based programs:

    1. Implement  Project HOPE  from Hawaii: Swift and Sure Changes in Probation
    2. Shift probation monitoring to local law enforcement, beat cops would be more efficient and effective than the current system of probation officers supervising felons.
    3. Include youth probation and Restorative Justice programs into collaborative high school intervention programs.

  • Ree

    Former prisoners will always recidivate if they cannot make a living, cannot get work due to stigma and discrimination in the community.

    Currently in California, there are laws in place that makes a felony bar to employment  a life sentence no matter what one’s prison sentence was. 
    What about the considerable California legal  and policy impediments that make it very difficult for ex-felons to secure employment?

    We need better policies *now* that make record expungement a real possibility for felons at some point in their lives.

  • Garciasy

    The issue of prisons and overcrowding in CA & the US seems directly connected to the toxic problems in our education systems. As a former elementary school educator I’ve witnessed funds and support reduced to the point that many schools are now eliminating teaching days from the calendar. In addition to this the curriculum has been totally focused on kids passing a test they are given one time in the year to evaluate both student progress and teacher competence. I witnessed students loose interest in education in classrooms where the learning process was delivered in a manner of rote learning. Anyone who has ever successfully taught a child anything knows that kids learn through experience and not in an assembly line fashion. While we spend huge amounts of money to fund prisons we ignore the educational needs of our children. Children who are sitting bored in our NCLB ckassrooms will be sitting bored in our prisons later. This equation should not compute in a free society!

  • Carrie Meehan

    I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated this report.  Prison population seems to be an unending problem, but I feel that the key is early intervention in a compassionate, therapeutic way.  I have the honor (and challenge) of serving as Executive Director for a small but extremely effective non-profit in San Francisco called Youth Treatment and Education Center (“YTEC”), which was started in 1997 by Judge Ina Gyemant to provide a therapeutic alternative to incarceration for high school youth.  It began as a “drug court” and is a collaboration between the offices of the public defender, district attorney and juvenile probation, and has become a nationwide model.  In a high school setting which follows an alternative model of education (called “Big Picture,” in which an individualized curriculum is developed for each student related to their passion, thereby ensuring sustained interest on the students’ part) and in which internships are integral, counseling is the essential ingredient (substance abuse, mental health, individual and MST — multi-systemic therapy which involves the whole family of the youth).  Strong, positive relationships are developed with the youth and their families, which last beyond the probation period of the youth.  

    Like many effective community-based organizations, we have been hit hard financially in light of the economy and budget cuts.  We are a team of four people now but are in a strong rebuild mode, because independent assessments of our model show that it works — there’s a consistent decrease in recidivism, increase in graduation rates, and many of the youth who go through our model want to remain involved in mentoring those youth still in the system, because they believe that YTEC literally saved their lives.  

    Thank you for highlighting this critically important topic.  
    Certainly financial support is essential to keep models like ours thriving, but equally important is awareness- and relationship-building.  

    Carrie Meehan
    Executive Director, YTEC

  • richmck

    The State dealt with jail
    overcrowding by transferring over a third of the usual county jail population
    to prison. That took about 15 years. Two years is really not sufficient time to
    transfer that population back to the counties under realignment. The counties
    have a 65,000 jail bed shortage according to the California Sheriffs
    Association 2006 analysis. They need to start obtaining contract facilities to
    deal with the added population. Realignment will reduce incarceration costs by
    about $1 billion annually. Counties are responsible for the low-level/high risk
    parolees and the State retained the high level/low risk cases. Counties will
    reduce the parole violation rate back to 20% compared to the current 35%
    technical violation rate.

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Sad that most men/women in prison are school drop outs and often illiterate. If when someone is first arrested and then found guilty of a serious crime how about we make getting a high school diploma in some secure environment which is not a prison.   

    And insist that those who profess to be law and order also step up and volunteer to help these folks so they don’t repeat the mistakes and end up costing the state even more money.

    We can pay now of pay later.  And having this naive attitude that as long as those guilty of crime are simply off the street and locked away is somehow making the problem better is plain stupid.

    Alas, I am very conservative on many issues, but also believe common sense solutions go a long way.

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