Don Specter’s Review of CA Prisons: It’s All About Overcrowding

Don Specter’s interesting and important Federal Sentencing Reporter piece is a good overview of conditions in California prisons to-date. I strongly recommend reading the piece in its entirety. I found this bit particularly interesting:

The belief that a reduction in the prison population leads to more crime is not supported by data or the experience in many jurisdictions that have used early release to reduce their correctional populations. A 2007 study by the National Council of Crime and Delinquency reviewed thirteen reports on the early release of prisoners in the United States and Canada.54 In each case, the crime rates remained the same or declined during the early-release period, and the prisoners released early did not commit more crimes than their counterparts who served the full sentence. In jurisdictions that provided community- based supportive services, recidivism rates declined.

Nor is there a change in the crime rate when correctional facilities cap their populations. From 1996 to 2006, twenty-one California counties released 1.7 million inmates early because of jail overcrowding. During that same period, the number of reported serious crimes dropped by 18 percent. A similar, although less dramatic, reduction in the crime rate occurred during the most recent three-year period.

One reason that there is no direct link between releasing prisoners and crime is that parolees are not responsible for as much crime as the public is led to believe. Although featured prominently in media stories about violent crime, parolees actually contribute very little to the crime rate. A study by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that parolees account for less than 5 percent of serious crimes.

Close the CA Division of Juvenile Justice

Daniel Macallair has made an outstanding argument in the LA Times for closing the Division of Juvenile Justice and its five state-run youth correctional facilities. “The system is broken everywhere you look.” Allowing counties, instead of the state, to house juvenile offenders (currently about 1,400 of them) would save the state government $322.7 million (yes, a third of a billion dollars). County probation systems already handle 99% of juvenile cases.

Prison Rape: NYRB Series and CA Report

I wanted to draw your attention to Sasha Natapoff‘s recent post on Prawfsblawg about prison rape. She links to a two-part essay in the New York Review of Books about the variation in state efforts to stop prison rape. I really recommend the post.

There is also a California angle: UC Irvine researchers at the Center for Evidence-Based Corrections prepared a 2007 report to CDCR about sexual assault in CA institutions. Conducting face-to-face interviews with 322 randomly-selected inmates, Val Jenness, et al., found great variance in the frequency of assaults: 4% of the interviewee sample reported being sexually assaulted in a CA institution, but the rates were much higher among special populations: 59% of transgender inmates reported abuse. While sexual assault was prevalent for almost all inmates, non-heterosexual inmates and Black inmates were considerable more vulnerable to sexual assault.. There was also a strong correlation between victimization and mental health problems. The report includes some details about the characteristics of incidents, notably the gang context of many incidents, and the difficulty in labeling incidents as coercive, as opposed to “part of prison life”, even when all incidents invoke fear, self-blame, and subsequent problems. Jenness et al also address overcrowding as a contributing factor to sexual assault incidents.