The Assembly is struggling to to achieve what the Senate has already done: pass a substantive prisons bill. Instead we get a bunch of legislators changing their minds about a sentencing commission, and in the end, setting us backward on reforming the prison mess.
Today, Speaker Bass revealed the details of the legislation that she plans to put up for a vote come Monday. You can see a summary of that bill over the flip (h/t SacBee). To say it is entirely underwhelming would be an understatement.
The bill makes some minor changes to the Senate Bill on the way things are handled, including the “wobblers”, which are crimes that can be charged as either a felony and misdemeanor. They changed some of the alternative custody rules and the definition of “grand theft.” Really, nothing all that substanital. They don’t restore funding for rehabilitation programs that were stripped in the Senate Bill.
But what they do take out of the bill is the “Public Safety Commission” aka the Sentencing Commission. Without the sentencing commission this bill isn’t worth the pixels on your screen. It won’t fix the prisons. It won’t create any substantive change. It will merely kick the can down the road. In order for this bill to be worthwhile, it MUST have a sentencing commission with teeth. A sentencing commission that allows policy makers who understand public safety to make the decisions, not political hacks trying to make their way to the next job. Again, if it can play in Kansas, it can happen here. The only thing missing here are a few legislators with courage.
In other words, this bill misses the opportunity presented by the budget challenges. Frankly, we only have so many cracks at this apple, and this is the perfect storm for a sentencing commission: A Republican Governor providing some cover, a budget mess requiring cost savings, and a federal court order hanging over our heads. The time is now. Like Arnold and his crew are using the mess to shock doctrine the state, we should use this mess to fix the state.
But the Assembly frankly does not have the courage to do what they believe is right. I know they believe it is right, because they passed it as AB 160 back in 2007. The Senate can get it done, the Assembly should be able to muster the votes too.
We can move forward in one of two directions: We can pass a decent piece of legislation, or we can pass this half-hearted nothingness. We can have real reform, or we can just keep going on the same path that we’ve been pursuing. In all likelihoods, the Assembly will pick the latter, and nothing will really be accomplished. We might even end up with the federal courts deciding how to release prisoners. But, as activists, we must all remember who stood up to make the tough vote, and who did not. In politics, there is always an accountability moment.
SB 18 XXX Corrections Reform Bill
What This Bill Does
Property crime thresholds. Property crime thresholds, many of which have not changed since 1982, will be updated to reflect the Consumer Price Index (CPI).It was suggested that the threshold for Grand Theft be $2,500 but in response to concerns from the law enforcement community, it was set at $950.
Inmate Credit Changes. Credits create an incentive for inmates to participate in programs while in prison which in turn reduces recidivism. Specifically, this legislation (a) provides consistent day-for-day credit earning status for offenders currently eligible for earning day-for-day credit in both jail and prison; (b) authorizes the department to award enhanced credits (up to 6 weeks) for the completion of rehabilitation, education, and vocation programs in prison; (c) authorizes the department to extend existing enhanced credits for fire camp inmates (two days for one day) to inmates waiting to be transferred to a fire camp (d) provides for day for day credits for inmates serving jail terms.
PAROLE AND PROBATION
Parole Policy. The legislation requires CDCR to use a risk-instrument on parolees. As part of the package, CDCR will increase supervision levels for the most serious and violent offenders. New proposed levels will be a supervision ratio of 45:1 instead of 70:1. As a result, parole officers will have reduced caseloads that will allow them to focus more time and energy on the supervision of higher risk, violent parolees.
Low and moderate risk offenders with non-serious, non-violent and non-sex offenses will be placed on a less intensive supervision and will not be subject to parole revocation. Serious offenders will be eligible for early parole discharge based upon successfully completing drug treatment.
Establishes the Parole Reentry Accountability Program. As part of the program CDCR will use a parole violation decision-making instrument to determine the most appropriate parole sanctions for a parole violator. Parole violators with a history of substance abuse or mental illness may be referred to a re-entry court. The court will work with the assistance of parole agents to determine the appropriate conditions of parole.
Community Corrections. County probation departments would receive a portion of CDCR savings so felony probationers who would otherwise be sent to prison remain under the jurisdiction of the counties. Probation Departments will use these funds for additional officers and evidence-based programs. Seed money is provided for 2009-10 via a $45 million appropriation from federal funds.
How This Bill Differs from AB 14 (3X), as passed by the Senate
1.Removes the changes to “wobblers.”
2.Removes the creation of “alternative custody”.
3.Removes changes to grand theft and grand theft auto, and limits all other changes to property crime to inflation since 1982.
4.Removes the Public Safety Commission.