Gubernatorial Budget 2014-2015

The Governor’s proposed budget for 2014-2015 is out and its full text is here. Public safety is addressed on pages 65-88 and the correctional budget is addressed on pages 89-93.

The budget proposes total funding of $9.8 billion ($9.5 billion General Fund and $320 million other funds), which is 9% of the state budget – only slightly less than our expenditures on higher education.

The report reviews the history of realignment and the Plata litigation, mentioning the state prison system’s commitment to reentry as per the Blueprint titled The Future of California Corrections (here is the Blueprint, for your convenience.) The report emphasizes CDCR’s commitment to expanding the rehabilitation menu to reach 70% of all inmates.

The report goes, at length, into the changes brought about with realignment, including the following useful classification of the prison population:

Still, the state prison population is higher than projected in 2013 – about 135,000 inmates vs. the 129,000 projected. The parolee population is expected to increase in 2013-2014 and decrease in 2014-2015, as a result of realignment and the transference of post-sentence supervisees to the counties. There are also more juvenile wards than projected, as a result of an increase in first admissions and in parole violations.

The budget report explicitly refers to the legal battle waged around the 137.5% capacity cap mandated by the federal court, and assumes that the deadline for meeting the cap will be extended by two years. Remember the $315 million that Governor Brown appropriated at the very last minute of the last legislative session? If there is an extension, the budget will allocate the first $75 million of the money to recidivism reduction (state reentry, substance abuse treatment, services for the mentally ill, and a special reentry facility) and the rest to the general fund. However, should the population cap deadline not be delayed, the money will be invested in private prisons “to avoid the early release of inmates.” You can see where this is going; the money is essentially there to more-or-less extort the Three Judge Panel and circumvent its perceived intention. The message is – play nice and give us two more years, in which case we’ll invest in rehabilitation, or you’ll get private prisons galore.

More interesting stuff: A projected expansion of medical and elderly parole. The age cutoff for the latter is 60, which means 5.4 percent of male inmates and 4.4 percent of female inmates (as of June 30.) If they pushed the age cutoff back to 55, which makes criminological and gerontological sense (people age faster in prison, and people leave crime behind at an earlier age), you’d be releasing 11.2 percent of men and 10.4 percent of women. So – a step in the right direction, but plenty of room for improvement.

The report also mentions two other savings mechanisms: nonviolent third-striker releases per Prop 36 and juvenile parole per SB260. While the report doesn’t explicitly take credit for them, it is a bit surprising to read such positive reports of these from an entity that fought the spirit of these initiatives for years.

A considerable amount of the money will be spent on improving health scores in state prisons so they can be wrangled away from the Receiver. Much of the money is allocated to fund litigation, to fight the Receiver and class-action suits in court; the rest of it on improvements to pharmacies, facilities, and staff training. The report mentions the impact of Obamacare on health care for county inmates as opposed to state inmates.

Lastly, there are some notable comments on realignment in the counties. There’s a proposal to make split sentences the default, but it still leaves a considerable amount of discretion to county judges, and would still create big disparities between county. Also, the report notes that keeping long-term inmates in county jails is not a great idea, but does not volunteer to take them back into state institutions en masse (as Manuel Perez has just suggested) because of the need to comply with the Plata/Coleman caps. The state is willing to take in offenders who are serving 10 years or more – that’s about 300 years annually – but that, of course, raises the question why people receive 10 years in prison for non-non-non offenses in the first place.

Criminal Justice Bills Signed Into Law by Gov. Brown, 2013 Season

Image courtesy NBC San Diego.

A month ago we provided a brief overview of the criminal justice bills on Gov. Brown’s desk. With the end of the legislative session, we have some important updates on some of these bills. This is the first of two posts, reporting on bills signed into law; the second post reviews vetoed bills.

We’ve all heard the news about the passage of AB 4, otherwise known as the TRUST Act. Federal law authorizes federal immigration officers to advise state and local law enforcement agents that a given person under custody has to be held for deportation. Under the new bill, CA law enforcement officials are not allowed to detain someone based on an ICE hold after the person is eligible for release from custody, unless certain conditions apply, such as a conviction for specified crimes.

Regular readers may recall our failed attempt to restore voting rights to non-serious, non-sexual, non-violent offenders in jail or on community supervision. AB 149 requires each county probation department to maintain a link to the Secretary of State’s voting rights guide, explaining clearly people’s rights to vote, which is particularly important in the case of probationers, who are eligible to vote in California and may not know that.

And we all remember the happy announcement that AB 218, otherwise known as Ban the Box, passed and was signed into law. The bill prohibits state or local agencies from asking an applicant to disclose information regarding a criminal conviction until the agency has determined the applicant meets the minimum qualifications for the position. From the reentry perspective, it is a laudable initiative that gives formerly incarcerated people a fair shot at being considered for a position on their merits and qualifications. Fewer people are aware of SB 530, which prohibit employers from asking about convictions that have been judicially dismissed or ordered sealed, except in special circumstances.

There were a multitude of gun bills on the Governor’s desk, and the end result on those was fairly mixed. The higher-profile bills were vetoed, such as SB 374, which would have banned semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines and require registration of even low-capacity rifles, and SB 567, which would have defined some rifles and shotguns as assault weapons. However, AB 231, which makes it a misdemeanor to store loaded weapons where children might have access to them, passed, and so did bills creating prohibitions for businesses from applying for assault weapons permits and two bills restricting firearms for mentally ill patients.

AB 494 increases CDCR’s accountability for literacy programs for inmates. Current law requires CDCR to implement literacy programs that would bring inmates, upon parole, to a 9thgrade reading level. ABA 494 requires CDCR to implement literacy programs that allow inmates who already have that level of literacy to acquire a GED certificate or its equivalent, as well as offer college programs through voluntary education programs. It also lists priorities. AB 624 is also a source of similar good news for inmate advocates. The bill allows sheriffs and other county directors of corrections to increase the number of programs that provide inmates with good credits toward release. Along the same lines, AB 1019 requires that the Superintendent of Education set goals for technical education programs in prison.

In helping folks reintegrate into their communities, record-cleaning and expungement issues are incredibly important. Now that AB 651 has been signed into law, defendants who did jail time for felonies may apply for expungement (withdraw their plea of guilty) after one or two years following the completion of the sentence, if they have an otherwise clean record; this makes their situation vis-a-vis expungements similar to that of defendants on probation. Defendants who completed prefiling diversion programs may also petition to seal the arrest records, under newly enacted SB 513. There are special rules about expungement of juvenile records, and AB 1006 creates an obligation to notify juvenile defendants of their rights to petition for sealing and destruction of the records.

There are other bills specifically geared toward juvenile defendants. SB 569 requires recording all interrogations of juveniles accused of murder (why only juveniles? why only murder? I suppose someone thought an incremental approach would be best.) And, of course, there’s SB 260, which, as we pointed out in the past, extends SB 9 to allow resentencing petitions for juveniles sentences to lengthy periods of time.

And more good news on the health care front: AB 720 requires the board of supervisors in each county to designate an entity to assist certain jail inmates to apply for a health insurance affordability program, and will prohibit county jail inmates who are currently enrolled in the Medi-Cal from being terminated from the program due to their detention, unless required by federal law or they become otherwise ineligible.

While SB 649, intended to reclassify simple drug possession as a “wobbler” (in order to allow it to be prosecuted as a misdemeanor) was vetoed (and more on that on the next post), there are some developments. AB 721 redefines drug transportation as transportation for sale purposes, effectively decriminalizing transportation for personal use.

There are also some expansions to police authority and some new criminal offenses, but at least from my perspective they seem fairly reasonable–a far cry from the super-punitive voter initiatives of elections past. SB 255 prohibits “revenge porn”, that is, distributing someone’s nude photo to cause them distress. [EDITED TO ADD: Notably, the law does not cover “sexting” situations, that is, redistribution of photos the victim took him/herself.] SB 717 allows issuing a search warrant to authorized a blood draw from a pesron in a “reasonable, medically approved manner, for DUI suspects who refuse to comply with police request for a blood draw. There’s also SB 57, which prohibits registered sex offenders from tampering with their GPS devices, which I suppose is good news for folks who think these devices are good tools for recidivism prevention (I have doubts.)

SB 458 tempers the legal requirements for including people’s name in gang databases. Under the new law, a person, or his/her parent/guardian in case of a minor, now gets notified that there’s an intention to include him/her in the gang member registry, and the person may contest, with written materials, said designation. Local law enforcement has to prove verification of the designation, with written materials, within 60 days.

And finally, SB 618 extends the ability to receive compensation for wrongful conviction to felons serving jail time. Also, the bill extends the time to apply for compensation to two years, requiring the Attorney General to respond within 60 days, and also removes the burden on the exoneree or pardoned person to prove that they did not intentionally contribute to bringing about the arrest or conviction.

Some important themes emerge. First, note the emphasis on reentry and reintegration in the job market, which is a healthy recession-era policy to allow formerly incarcerated folks at least a fighting chance finding employment and rebuilding their lives. We’re also seeing particular care with regard to juvenile offenders, especially those charged with or convicted of serious offenses. There isn’t a lot of hyperpunitive legislation, and the few new offenses seem tempered and reasonable. The next post deals with the vetoed bills.


Regulating Public Space: Excluding BART Offenders from Trains

Photo credit Rhett Aultman.

The picture on the left is of a public ad found in many BART cars recently. The text reads:

A new state law allows BART to prohibit individuals who have committed violent acts, certain misdemeanors or felonies on the system from entering BART property.
The state law references is Assembly Bill 716. The BART website elaborates:

Assembly Bill 716 allows BART to issue a “prohibition order” against anyone who commits certain offenses on BART property, banning them for 30 days to a year, depending on the offense. For infractions such as defacing property or urinating in public, a person must be cited on at least three separate occasions within a period of 90 days to receive a prohibition order. For more serious crimes such as violence against passengers or employees, the ban can take effect after the first instance.

There is a committee that decides on issuing the prohibition orders. And, there are apparently mechanisms in place to curb misuse of this law:

The new law also contains extensive safeguards to address concerns that the authority it grants could be misused. Anyone receiving a prohibition order can request an administrative hearing, the law states. The hearing officer can overturn the order if he or she determines the person “did not understand the nature and extent of his or her actions or did not have the ability to control his or her actions.” 

If the cited person is dependent upon transit for “trips of necessity,” including travel to or from medical or legal appointments, school, work, or to obtain food and clothing, the order must be modified to allow for those trips. If the person is not satisfied with the hearing officer’s decision he or she may seek judicial review.

The new law raises a lot of interesting considerations regarding the regulation of public space. BART property is the property of a governmental agency, and this exclusion is not unlike the exclusion of, say, sex offenders from public fairs and events. While it is important to keep in mind that there’s a thematic connection between the conduct and the sanction – the violation has to be related to BART – it does beg the question how are said individuals to be identified and apprehended in busy stations without recurring to profiling methods that are banned by the BART police manual. It also brings up sad and angry memories from the Oscar Grant killing on New Year’s Eve of 2009; Grant and his friends were arrested after a brawl on BART.

Excluding offenders from public space, especially mobility, also has important class implications. I’m happy to see that the law allows for modifying the order to accommodate “necessary trips”, but verifying whether a given trip is “necessary” or not is a complicated matter and does not eliminate hassle and suspicion in the first place. It also means that folks who may not be able to afford alternative means of transportation to “non-necessary” destinations are now curbed from reaching these destinations.

We’ll have to wait and see how “prohibition orders” are issued and executed. Email us if you experience anything related to this law on BART.

Props to Richard Boswell and to Rhett Aultman.

Happy Father’s Day to Incarcerated Dads

Every Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, the Get on the Bus project brings children to visit parents in prison. This laudable initiative should draw our attention to the fact that, for all other days in the year, many children still have incarcerated parents.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has issued a special report on parenthood behind bars. The findings are fairly grim; as many as 60% of fathers in prison do not have contact with their children. The racial distribution is distressing as well, and means that entire communities lack the experience of regular father-child contact.

Sesame Street’s Little Children, Big Challenges, has stepped up to the plate and created a kit for children of incarcerated parents. This report includes various clips from the program. And while, as Time Magazine reminds us, the show cannot fight mass incarceration in its entirety, it is a small and important step toward acknowledging mass incarceration as an experience affecting a large number of American children.

Riverside Jail Sends Inmates to Fire Camps

Image courtesy

This Wednesday, Riverside County Jail became the first county institution to send inmates to California’s fire camps, in which state prisoners help put out fires. Richard de Atley of P.E. bloggers reports:

The 20 inmates were sent Wednesday, June 5 to the CDCR’s Sierra Conservation Camp training facility, in Jamestown. CDCR has agreed to place the trained county inmates in Riverside County fire camps, whenever possible.

. . .

County Supervisors in April approved a Sheriff’s Department proposal to supply county inmates to the fire camp program. More inmates will be sent every two weeks until the program reaches capacity of 200 Riverside County inmates at any time during the next five years.

Riverside County’s five jails have been at capacity shortly after realignment began. More than 10,000 inmates have been released early due to realignment, jail officials have said.

. . .

Riverside County will pay $46.19 daily per inmate. The funds were set aside from realignment money controlled by the Community Corrections Partnership, a joint local agency that includes the probation, sheriff, mental health department and district attorney and public defender’s offices.

Riverside County’s fire camps are located in Norco and Hemet. The county also maintains the Oak Glen camp, located in northern Riverside County inside the San Bernardino National Forest in the San Gorgonio Mountain Range, according to the Riverside County Fire Department’s web site.

In addition to helping fight wildfires, inmate camp members do public road maintenance and community service work.

For readers unfamiliar with California’s fire camps, I highly recommend Philip Goodman’s work (exhibit A, exhibit B). Not only do the fire camps alleviate prison overcrowding, they provide a much-needed public service. As an interesting aside, the strict racial divisions within the institutions blur when inmates work side by side on life-saving work.

Obtaining a job as a fireman after release from prison, however, may be tricky, as the fire departments run thorough background checks.

Props to Caitlin Henry for the blog link.

More on Felon Enfranchisement: Voter Turnout in Israeli Prisons Surges

Today’s short commentary comes from Israel, where exit poll results are out. Big political questions aside, there has been an interesting change in voter turnout in ballots located in prisons. As some readers might know, Israel fully enfranchises both current and former inmates; even Yigal Amir, who is serving a life sentence for murdering Prime Minister Rabin in 1995, has the right to vote. But traditionally, voter turnout among inmates has been fairly low. Haaretz newspaper reports:

נתונים מעניינים מבתי הסוהר, שם נסגרו הקלפיות ב-20:00. בסך הכול, הצביעו 7,435 אסירים, שהם 70.6% מבעלי זכות ההצבעה. זו עלייה דרמטית בהשוואה לבחירות 2009, אז הצביעו רק 21%, זאת בשל שינוי בחוק שהוביל שב”ס לזיהוי האסירים בכרטיס אסיר ללא צורך בתעודות זהות, שלרוב לא היו ברשותם. עד כה נאלצו האסירים לשלם מכספם כדי להנפיק תעודות חדשות ולכן ויתרו בדרך כלל על ההשתתפות. מלבדם הצביעו גם 1,295 אנשי סגל. לא נרשמו אירועים חריגים לאורך היום.

Interesting data from prisons, where ballot boxes closed at 8pm. Overall, 7,435 inmates voted, who constitute 70.6% of all inmates eligible to vote. This is a dramatic increase compared to the 2009 elections, in which only 21% [of inmates] voted, due to a change in law that led the Prison Authority to identify inmates based on their inmate card without need for an Israeli I.D., which they often did not have. Until now, inmates had to pay out of pocket to obtain new I.D. cards and therefore usually forewent their right [to vote]. In addition [to the inmates], 1,295 correctional staff voted. No unusual events were recorded during the day. [My translation – H.A.]

This is interesting, albeit anecdotal, data for several reasons. First, it refutes the notion that voter turnout among the inmate population is universally low, or the assumption that it would be low if they were given the vote in countries in which they are disenfranchised. Second, and more interestingly, it effectively refutes the tendency to ascribe low turnout to voter apathy. Rather, it indicates that the expense involved in documentation and bureaucracy – even when there is no real voter fraud concerns, or if they are bogus – is the real deterrent from voting. This has implications beyond the inmate population, as to voter I.D. laws in the US in general, criticized – rather colorfully – by Sarah Silverman before the 2012 U.S. election.

The concern about low voter turnout is real, and the corollary – as the Israeli inmate case tells us – is that facilitating the right to vote for people for whom obtaining the appropriate card is an expense or a hassle enriches the electorate in people who are engaged and interested in impacting life in their communities.

And who knows? Maybe recidivism rates in Israel are lower because people are never divorced from the fate of their countries and never cease to be enfranchised citizens.

Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan Publicly Endorse SB9

Wow! Talk about narrow coalitions! First we get Pat Robertson’s enthusiastic support of marijuana legalization, and now this: Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan offering support for Senate Bill 9, which would allow for resentencing youth who have been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Their op-ed in the U-T San Diego explains:

You might expect that these LWOP sentences are limited to the “worst of the worst,” but that is not the case. A young teen can be a bit player in a crime, e.g., act as a lookout while his buddies go in to steal beer from a convenience store. None of them is armed, and there is no plan for violence. Then it all goes haywire. The clerk pulls a gun, and one of the kids tries to grab it away. In the struggle that ensues, the gun goes off and the clerk dies. 

Under California’s “felony murder” rule, every person involved in that crime, no matter how minor their role, is equally guilty of murder, even if they did not plan or expect a murder to occur. According to the fiction of our law, the lookout is as much to blame as the person who pulled the trigger. About 45 percent of the inmates serving LWOP for a teenage crime were not the person who caused the death. Yet they will die in prison of old age, with no chance for release. 

But should these youngsters die in prison for something they did when they were so young? Wouldn’t it be better to re-evaluate them after serving a long stretch in prison and consider whether they have matured and improved themselves? 

We are conservative Republicans, and we believe that some people are so dangerous that we must separate them from our communities. That is what prisons are for. But sometimes we overuse our institutions. California’s teen LWOP is an overuse of incarceration. It denies the reality that young people often change for the better. And it denies hope to those sentenced under it.

This op-ed joins a long stream of previous statements from conservative politicians who express a willingness to deviate from the traditionally tough-on-crime stance on the right. And notably, while there is a savings strand here, there is also text about compassion and humaneness. Good stuff.

Cross-posted to PrawfsBlawg.

Cuddling or Coddling?

Photo courtesy Rick Bowmer for the Associated Press.

An interesting little story in yesterday’s Chron describes a jail in Washington State in which inmates are entrusted with the care of cats. 

Contreras and his cellmate, after passing the screening process, are two of the four inmates in the “Cuddly Catz” program at Larch Correctional Facility in Yacolt. “

Nobody was wanting to adopt her,” Contreras said. “We got her and it’s been awesome ever since.” 

It wasn’t awesome at the outset. She came as advertised, Contreras said — moody, dysfunctional and prone to violence. But the changes in his newest cellmate are evident. 

 She can now be petted, brushed and even held for a few minutes. She still growls but rarely hisses. She has a scratching post and perch that takes up a healthy chunk of the 12 foot-by-10 foot cell. Contreras and his cellmate care for her in shifts. 

The debate about evidence-based programming in prison is heated because programs require resources, but this seems to be a fairly cheap program to administer. All it takes is cat food, litter boxes, and the occasional vet visit; not an insurmountable expense. This could be something to think about in California, too, post-realignment.

The comments on the article seem fairly benign so far, but I can imagine some readers thinking that allowing inmates to keep pets is unnecessary coddling. What do you think?

Realignment: How Not To Do It, the Construction Version

Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) are raising some serious concerns about rehabilitation implementation. They are circulating a petition against the Riverside County plan to charge inmates for their stay, and also spearheading an effort to stop a planned Los Angeles County jail expansion.

Under AB 900, counties have been invited to appeal for Phase II funding to increase their jail capacity. The list of counties is here; Los Angeles tops the large counties’ list.

One of the arguments usually thrown around in support of realignment is that even if the counties do a bad job at imprisonment, they cannot possibly be worse than the state. I’m beginning to think that, in some cases, that may not be true. There is no reason to believe that the state administration has all the punitive foolishness and the counties, all the recidivism-reducing wisdom. It is time for the counties to wake up and seriously commit to the goal of reducing confined population (and the expenses involved in confining it). Otherwise, a precious opportunity will be lost.