Three Graduations

The CDCR website features two news items about recent graduations. The first of these is the March 11 graduation of inmates with certificates in marine technology and carpentry. The marine technology graduates laugh as the speaker tells them that they are uniquely skilled for the profession, being more acclimated than others to live in small quarters. As the speakers congratulate the graduates for their newly acquired skills, they inform them, and the audience, that recidivism rates are significantly lower than for the general population (20% for carpentry graduates, and almost no recidivism at all for marine technology). Leonard Greenstone says, beaming with pride “I just hope you guys succeed in this program… every time a group of your leave, stay out of prison, aren’t coming back… really, it’s the most heartwarming, satisfactory feeling a human being can have… we all can take all kinds of credit, but this wouldn’t be here, or successful, without you. God bless you”. Secretary Cate said, “I have become a born again believer in these programs that provide our graduates… with the skills necessary to be successful on parole”, and mentioned that in budgetary constraint times, “this program pays for itself”. He adds, though, “[i]t’s not about politics or about the economy… this is about human beings… one life change impacts many others… one man who has the pride of a skill set and can support a family, can impact a generation”.

While CDCR is not currently accepting applications for guard positions, they feature the first 2009 Peace Officer Graduation streamlined video on their website. Prison guards are assigned to handle a variety of prison and parole operations, including transportations, escort, gang investigations, etc. The 16-week training takes place at theBasic Peace Officer Academy, located in Galt and Stockton.

Finally, my own students are graduating today. While I’m very sad to say goodbye to so many people I have such professional respect and personal affection for, I am proud and happy for them. They are not only exceptionally smart and hardworking people, but also imbued with a strong sense of social conscience and a commitment to making our society better. Many of today’s graduates played an important role in envisioning, organizing, and running our conference this March. While their opinions on law enforcement and corrections vary, they all have a healthy interest in doing their part in improving our criminal justice system. I hope that, despite the current job market situation, they will all be soon gainfully employed in places that allow those of them who wish to do so, to be part of the solution for the California Corrections Crisis. Congratulations, folks; I love you and believe in you.

Prison and Parole Cuts: Lean Years, Lean Budget

Yesterday’s Sacramento Bee reported Governor Schwarzenegger’s new budget plan, which has direct implications for corrections policy. The gist of it is as follows:

Parole would be eliminated for all nonserious, nonviolent and non-sex offenders. The proposal would cut the parole population by about 65,000 by June 30, 2010, or more than half of the Christmas Eve count of 123,144.

At the same time, the corrections plan calls for increasing good-time credits for inmates who obey the rules and complete rehabilitation programs. Combined with the new parole policies that would result in fewer violators forced back into custody, the proposal would reduce the prison population by 15,000 by June 30, 2010. It stood at 171,542 on Dec. 24.

The California Correctional Peace Officers’ Association, who has previously opposed the Governor’s plan for state employees to go on one-day furloughs, opposes this plan as well. This letter from their Executive Vice President, Chuck Alexander, has bits and pieces of the proposed budget in it.

A careful read of the budget will reveal cuts not only in the prison and parole systems, but also in the medical system’s Receiver’s budget. Some rehabilitative re-entry programs might actually see an increase in funding.

Desperate times, apparently, call for desperate measures. These steps echo what I commented on here and here: we no longer care about the merits of a correctional institution or project. We only care about how much it costs.

But wait: isn’t de-crowding our prisons, and cutting our parole system, a good thing on the merits as well? This is a bit more complex than it might seem. A credit accumulation system is certainly a good thing, and it helps focus the release decision on factors having to do with actual behavior and change, rather than on a regurgitation of issues concerning the offense itself (a bit more on that, from a broader doctrinal perspective, in this piece by W. David Ball). But rather than eliminating mandatory parole, if we had the leisure of giving this reform careful thought, we would perhaps be better off retooling parole to act as an institution encouraging and supporting ex-felons in re-entry, rather than supervising them and returning them to jails for technicalities? A reformed parole system could be an invaluable resource for people seeking housing and work upon their return from prison. As is becoming plainly obvious, this is not about common sense, even if, in some cases, it seems to make sense as a policy. This is strictly about the money.

It remains to be seen whether the legislator will approve these changes. To Be Continued.