They should grant early release of the whole parole system

Today’s LA Times story about a handful of prisoners released with 60 days or less remaining on their sentences probably raises hackles on the backs of the necks of the Tough on Crime crowd, but it really shows how fundamentally broken the state’s prison system remains.  Because look what the charges were on all of the prisoners released.

Reporting from Sacramento — California prison officials, facing severe overcrowding and a financial crisis, have been granting early releases to inmates serving time for parole violations.

State officials said the dozens of prisoners set free from the California Institution for Men in Chino and from lockups in San Diego and Shasta counties had 60 days or less left on their terms, or had been accused of violations and were awaiting hearings. The releases were approved by the state parole board.

At least 89 inmates have been freed or approved for early release during the last two months. Others have been sent to home detention, drug rehabilitation programs or similar alternative punishments.

It’s not an anomaly to see just 89 inmates charged with parole violations.  In fact, more than two-thirds of all prisoners admitted to state prisons in 2007 commit the crime of violating parole guidelines.  This is at least twice as many as virtually any other state.

On average, the nation’s state and federal prisons took in almost two new offenders for every parole violator, but in California, the reverse is true. In 2007, California prisons took in 139,608 inmates and 92,628 of them were parole violators, almost a 2-1 ratio. In only one other state, Washington, did parole violators outnumber those being jailed by the courts, and that was only by 126 inmates.

If Arnie Antionette were truly talking about reform instead of policies that destroy the social safety net, he’d talk about completely overhauling a parole system that is clearly too constrictive, that fails Californians and makes us all less safe.  When you warehouse 170,000 inmates in jails that only fit 100,000, you turn them into institutes of higher learning for violent crime instead of rehabilitation centers.  In addition to the cost of overtime for parole officers and prison guards, the costs to the criminal justice system naturally increase with the revolving door for inmates, not to mention the societal and human costs.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a reform agenda in this state, just a bunch of lawmakers trying to get across the line to the next budget, to the next election.  If there was such a thing as innovation and leadership we would have revamped this failed parole policy long ago.