Category Archives: Prisons

Prop 47 Would Put the Emphasis Back on Rehabilitation in our Justice System

Measure would reform sentencing and focus on rehabilitation, rather than warehousing, of prisoners

by Brian Leubitz

Prop 47 has been lost a little bit in the shuffle between other measures. From local to statewide ballot measures and a few legislative races, Prop 47 doesn’t have the huge TV aerial war that we have seen elsewhere.

But it could make a huge difference in how we spend our money on prisons through the CDCR. (That last R is supposed to stand for rehabilitation, but with Prop 47, California can put its money where its mouth has been for years. We have fallen sadly behind states like Kansas in how we handle our prisons. Prop 47 is one step along the way to the powerful reform our justice system still needs. has a new video up, and maybe if we all share it on Facebook, a few more California voters will see it and vote Yes. View and share!

Three Judge Panel Designs Plan to Reduce Prison Population within Two Years

San Quentin State Prison California taken from a passing ferryPanel say the delays are costing the taxpayers

by Brian Leubitz

At some point, whether this year or two years from now, the state will have to get the prison population down to 137.5% of its designed capacity, or around 112,000 prisoners. Gov. Brown has been working on that primarily through realignment and shifting prisoners to private prisons out of state. The three judge panel took a look and decided the deadline should wait. But there’s a catch in the ruling (Full court order here):

Under Monday’s order, the state has until Feb. 28, 2016, to reduce the inmate population in its 34 adult prisons – designed to hold 81,574 inmates – to 137.5 percent of its current design capacity. State prisons now house roughly 117,600 inmates. The order requires the number to be reduced to 112,164 and bars the state from sending inmates to out-of-state prisons to get to that level. (SacBee)

Beyond that agreement not to send prisoners out of state, the state also agreed that they would seek to reduce the current out of state population of 8,900. Furthermore, the judges went ahead and outlined how the state was going to get down to that 137.5% figure pretty explicitly, with benchmarks and an appointed compliance officer.

Many of the media reports are simply referring this order as a stay of execution, but rather it is a compromise that requires the state to meet certain conditions. Beyond seeking additional space in county jails, the state will implement the following 8-point plan agreed to by the court:

(a) Increase credits prospectively for non-violent second-strike offenders and minimum custody inmates. Non-violent second-strikers will be eligible to earn good time credits at 33.3% and will be eligible to earn milestone credits for completing rehabilitative programs. Minimum custody inmates will be eligible to earn 2-for-1 good time credits to the extent such credits do not deplete participation in fire camps where inmates also earn 2-for-1 good time credits;

(b) Create and implement a new parole determination process through which non-violent second-strikers will be eligible for parole consideration by the Board of Parole Hearings once they have served 50% of their sentence;

(c) Parole certain inmates serving indeterminate sentences who have already been granted parole by the Board of Parole Hearings but have future parole dates;

(d) In consultation with the Receiver’s office, finalize and implement an expanded parole process for medically incapacitated inmates;

(e) Finalize and implement a new parole process whereby inmates who are 60 years of age or older and have served a minimum of twenty-five years of their sentence will be referred to the Board of Parole Hearings to determine suitability for parole;

(f) Activate new reentry hubs at a total of 13 designated prisons to be operational within one year from the date of this order;

(g) Pursue expansion of pilot reentry programs with additional counties and local communities; and

(h) Implement an expanded alternative custody program for female inmates. (Order at p. 3)

The Compliance Officer will be checking in with the court, but the court plans on retaining jurisdiction over the prison system until the reductions are deemed “durable.”

In the end, this is a very reasonable plan for all parties. It makes the prison system safer and healthier for prisoners and guards. It will shift focus from parole violaters and other low-risk offenders to the most dangerous elements in the prisons. There is a lot of evidence that we can make our communities safer through more rational sentencing, and perhaps this can be the hammer that prods us along that course.

Court Grants 4 Week Prison Delay To Pursue Settlement

Mule Creek State Prison, from Brown v. PlataCourt is putting finger on the scales toward a settlement

by Brian Leubitz

The Court has been pretty upfront with their displeasure with the progress on prison population reduction. But perhaps they are also less than thrilled with the simple private prisons option and see a ray of light with the proposals that the Senate Democrats brought to the issue.  Either way, the Court granted the state four weeks, moving the date back from the end of the year until Jan 27, 2014. (PDF of the order). Here’s the important part for that delay:

The December 31, 2013 deadline shall be extended until January 27, 2014, without prejudice to the parties’ filing a joint request for a further extension or the Court so ordering. During the meet-and-confer process and until further order of the Court, defendants shall not enter into any contracts or other arrangements to lease additional capacity in out-of-state facilities or otherwise increase the number of inmates who are housed in out-of-state facilities.

Now, four weeks, you are thinking? Well, the judges have a plan for those four weeks. As mentioned in that last paragraph (actually the third of three paragraphs in the order), the state and the plaintiffs in the case were ordered to a negotiation process overseen by First District Court of Appeal Justice Peter Siggins. Justice Siggins will then notify the Three Judge Panel on Oct 21 whether there is hope for a settlement. Specifically, he was tasked with looking at a number of options to reducing populations, which apparently the Court finds preferable to the leasing additional capacity.

The meet-and-confer process shall explore how defendants can comply with this Court’s June 20, 2013 Order, including means and dates by which such compliance can be expedited or accomplished and how this Court can ensure a durable solution to the prison crowding problem.  The discussions shall specifically include: (a) three strikers; (b) juveniles; (c) the elderly and the medically infirm; (d) Immigration and Customs Enforcement prisoners; (e) the implementation of the Low Risk List; and (f) any other means, including relocation within the state, that are included in defendants’ May 2, 2013 List.  Justice Siggins and the parties may also discuss any necessary or desirable extension of the December 31, 2013 deadline beyond that provided for in the final paragraph of this order, as well as any other matters they deem appropriate.

These criteria are remarkably similar to a letter written by the ACLU to the Governor on how we could release prisoners without leasing additional capacity. So clearly the court is looking for an option beyond the Governor’s plan, and appreciates the dialog that the Legislature had with the Senate’s plan. Of course, at the heart of the Senate Democrats plan was a three year delay brought about by a settlement with the plaintiffs.

This is a lot of reading of tea leaves out of a three paragraph order. But if some progress can be made over the next four weeks, maybe we can spend a little more time reforming the heart of the troubling system as the Senate Democrats hoped to do.

Three Judge Panel Grants 4 Week Delay

According to Plan, California Asks for 3 Year Prison Delay

Request was part of legislative compromise

by Brian Leubitz

The key to all of the Senate Democrats plans to get real reform in our corrections system was a three year delay on the court ordered return to 137.5% of prison capacity. Gov. Brown has now gone ahead and asked the court for the delay:

Gov. Jerry Brown has asked federal judges for a three-year delay in their requirement that the state release thousands of inmates by year’s end to ease prison overcrowding.

If the judges reject his request, the administration would spend $315 million this fiscal year to house the inmates in private prisons and county jails instead of turning them loose.(KTVU/AP)

Now, the state did try to offer a few other promises to get the courts to go along with the delay, including spending additional resources on rehabilitation services. But the court, given their previous writings on the case, seems unimpressed with the state’s track record on the issue, and it would take something of a change of heart for the delay to be allowed. And the plaintiffs are objecting to any delays:

“There is no timetable, there’s no promise of what programs will be in place when, all there is is a promise to talk some more even though they’ve had five years to evaluate these different alternatives,” said Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office that sued over inmate crowding. “The definite trend in the rest of the nation is to go away from incarceration. Instead, California is going in the direction of another incarceration binge.”

These other states that have moved away from the “incarceration binge” include such notable progressive bastions as Kansas and Mississippi. What they discovered is that there are better ways to reduce and control crime than simply creating bigger jails.

Whether we get the delay or not, we still need to work over the next three (+/-) years to truly reform our corrections system so that we are locking up the right people, reducing recidivism, controlling costs, and keeping our communities safer. There is a way to thread that needle, to reach for all of those goals, but we have a long way to go.

State punts on substantive prison reform. Again.

by Jennifer Kim & Zachary Norris

Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

In a compromise that places politics before progress, Governor Jerry Brown and the legislature have punted yet again. Rather than seizing a historic opportunity to safely reduce the prison population and save critical resources to restore programs that have faced devastating cuts in previous years, the state has chosen a strategy to increase prison beds and private prison contracts.  

Other states have invested in sensible reforms.  Texas diverted funding away from prison expansion to fund their Nurse-Family Partnerships Program, a national model that reduces crime and helps low-income families.  Meanwhile, California’s posse of fear mongering Republicans and weak willed Democrats (with the exception of Senators Loni Hancock and Noreen Evans) warn us of an imaginary crime wave that will result if a single elderly prison is medically paroled.  These “leaders” have asked for yet another timeout to figure out how to reduce the prison population.  This may be a reasonable request if not for the fact that we’ve been wrestling with this same issue since 2006.  

In recent budget hearings, I witnessed our legislators patting themselves on their backs for the progress they have made since 2006 in reducing the state prison population.  The first punt went to our 58 counties, resulting in a geographical shift of our problems, rather than a solution.  For good measure, the state punted yet again, shifting prisoners over to states like Oklahoma and Mississippi, consequently enriching the pockets of private prison profiteers.  And now, with a court deadline less than four months away, the state’s hemming and hawing has resulted in a compromise that reeks of a regurgitation of failed policies.  

We cannot spend or build our way out of this mess.  For years, advocates have pushed simple, cost effective measures to safely reduce the prison population including increasing good time credits and expanding elderly and medical parole.  These reforms can be implemented immediately. A case in Los Angeles County of a man serving a 42-year sentence for a non-serious, non-sexual, non-violent crime in county jail demonstrates the urgency for comprehensive sentencing reform.  Instead of investing in robust rehabilitative and reentry supports, we continue to cut rehabilitation programs, ensuring that less than 5% of the $10 billion annual corrections budget goes to reducing recidivism.  

The state’s handling of its overcrowded prisons speaks to a greater and disheartening truth; that schools, parks, and libraries will continue to fall prey to a insatiable corrections budget; that the need for teachers, nurses, and firefighters are outweighed by special interests who benefit from the status quo and who continue to fill the pockets of politicians; and that simply, we would rather lock a man up rather than give him an education.  Our reliance on prisons will continue the downward spiral into financial and moral bankruptcy unless our leaders muster the courage to address the most costly and devastating issue facing our communities today.

In addition to sensible criminal justice reforms, the state needs to implement broader justice reinvestment-moving resources away from prisons to innovative programs and ideas, proven to enhance public safety by lifting up communities.  This year, Alameda County created an Innovations in Reentry Fund, an initiative that has solicited ideas and programs from the community to reduce recidivism and enhance reentry supports.  These are the kinds of strategies we need to pull the state out of crisis and focus on what we truly care about: education, jobs, health and human services, and a clean environment.  

Gov. Brown Wins Compromise from Steinberg on Prison Transfers

Brown’s plan basically holds, with hope held out for greater reform

by Brian Leubitz

With time running out on funding and planning prison transfers, Sen. Steinberg has compromised to something appearing very similar to Gov. Brown’s original plan:

A modified version of Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison housing plan appears headed for approval after Brown and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, the plan’s chief critic, announced today they reached a compromise.

The state will proceed with Brown’s plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to reduce California’s prison population by moving thousands of inmates to local lockups and out of state, but only if federal judges overseeing California’s prison overcrowding case do not give the state more time to address overcrowding.(Sac Bee)

That “but only if” is the compromise that Steinberg was able to get from the Governor. It also represents the great hope of his own plan that perhaps the court would grant the state additional time to deal with the overcrowding and get back to 137.5% of capacity. That delay is still quite speculative at this time. If it is ultimately denied, this plan looks pretty close to what Gov. Brown offered up originally. If there is a delay, perhaps we can really work on some of those needed reforms.

California’s First Attempt to Send Prisoners Out of State: The Videos

State has been trying to send prisoners out of state for a long time

by Brian Leubitz

Back in 2006, in the midst of another budget crisis, the administration offered up voluntary transfers to prisoners.  For your Friday edification and enjoyment, I’ve posted some promotional videos from 2007 highlighting the “opportunities” in these facilities for prisoners. The quality is a bit, well, terrible, but you can pretty much catch the drift.

Prison System Preparing to Move Prisoners Out of State, With or Without Legislature

Corcoran State PrisonI’ll was on KPFK today at 8:40 to discuss the prison situation

by Brian Leubitz

Well, this is interesting, the Brown administration is allegedly planning to move prisoners to out of state prisons with or without the Legislature’s permission.  The LA Times got a memo sent out on Tuesday showing that the state was going to start preparations to move prisoners to private (mostly out of state) prisons:

“Every potentially eligible offender will be screened for transfer…. While a transfer may cause a hardship to you or your families, it is an action the state must pursue in order to comply with a court order,” reads a memo distributed Tuesday throughout the state prison system, signed by corrections secretary Jeffrey Beard.

In addition, the corrections department is reducing the time prisoners have to challenge such moves, a separate internal memo distributed Tuesday shows. Previously, inmates identified for transfer out of state were given the chance to consult a lawyer before the classification became official. Now, to expedite moves, legal consultations will not be offered until after a prisoner’s move has been approved. (LA Times)

Moving close to 10,000 prisoners is a very difficult logistical process, so no matter what happens in the Legislature, it shouldn’t surprise anybody that these preparations have begun. Yet, the optics are still not good, especially in the executive branch’s relationship to the Legislature. However, one hopes that this doesn’t stall any real progress towards a solution that everybody can live with.

That being said, the Senate’s plan is clearly the best situated at this point to press for long term reform of the system. Whether this case is the beginning of that overdue process is still in the air.

Prison Proposals Get a Senate Hearing

I will be on KPFK’s Uprising tomorrow at 8:20 to discuss the prison mess, as the legislative session draws to a close with no clear plans to comply with the court order.

by Brian Leubitz

Right now, the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee is holding a hearing on the prison proposals. Suffice it to say there is a lot of political posturing going on right now. You can watch now on the CalChannel.

The committee will hear testimony on AB 84, the Senate Democrats’ Safe, Sustainable and Fiscally Responsible Plan to Reduce Crime and Settle the Prison Overcrowding Crisis. The plan, which avoids any early releases of inmates, offers settlement of a federal court order to reduce California’s prison population by approximately 9,600 inmates by December 31, 2013. The committee will also review the Governor’s proposal – which is in included in SB 105 in the Assembly – which relies solely on temporary expanded prison capacity. More details of the plan are available in this post.

However, here are a few numbers from a recent David Binder poll that should probably factor into the decision:

Proposal Sacramento and Northern CA Bay Area Central Valley Los Angeles Area San Diego and Inland Empire
Support Oppose Support Oppose Support Oppose Support Oppose Support Oppose
Public safety commission 70 16 75 13 76 12 73 14 81 11
Provide treatment for mentally ill 78 17 83 10 80 14 80 12 79 12
Incentives for Evidence Based Programs 60 29 60 25 61 25 58 30 60 23

These goals are the heart of the Senate plan, and they are nothing but laudable. However, as the Governor and supporters of his plan are quick to point out, the Senate plan requires a quick settlement with the plaintiffs as well as approval from the courts for a three year delay. And that’s where you get much of the tussling in today’s hearing.

There is no question that our prisons are overcrowded. We are locking up unheard of percentages of our population, and not coming up with any good solutions on how to reduce these numbers. Perhaps the Senate’s plan is a bit of wishful thinking, but our previous attempts have been simplistic and led directly to our current crisis.

But hey, on the bright side, the prisons are going to allow same sex marriages. So, that’s something…

Steinberg’s Prison Plan

PhotobucketPlan calls for settlement with prison plaintiffs, sentencing reform

by Brian Leubitz

As I mentioned yesterday, the prisons are a mess. However, things can get worse. My friend, and SF School Board member, Matt Haney co-authored an op-ed in the SF Chronicle with Van Jones about the governor’s position on the issue:

Gov. Jerry Brown confirmed this week that he is pulling his prison policies out of a 1980s playbook. It is heartbreaking to watch our nation’s most famous Democratic governor cling to outdated, lock ’em up notions that even conservatives are abandoning in droves. …

Tuesday, he made his most shocking step yet by proposing to send inmates to for-profit prisons. This boondoggle will cost an additional $315 million and more than $1 billion over three years to house thousands of people in private prisons leased by the state. Even our most extreme, fear-mongering politicians of decades past would have been reluctant to put forward such a scheme.

Brown appears hell bent on being on the wrong side of history. Across the political spectrum, leaders are beginning to understand that we need to invest in rehabilitation, re-entry programs, and evidence-based alternatives, rather than continuing our failed policies of mass incarceration. (Matt Haney and Van Jones / SF Chronicle)

So, while the Governor is working hard to come to some sort of immediate solution, there is not much optimism for a progressive in the plan. Meanwhile, Sen. Steinberg has a plan, but it relies on one very crucial assumption: he can get the plaintiffs in the suit to settle and have the judges agree to a three year delay on implementation.  As I mentioned yesterday, it is a big risk and not entirely clear how the judges would rule even with a settlement.

But there is reason to believe that a settlement would be possible. And perhaps Gov. Brown is playing a game to force the plaintiffs hand in some really tricky three dimensional chess strategy. Brown’s plan is pretty much everything the plaintiffs don’t want. Under all this, they would like to see some sentencing and other reforms in the prison system. The governor’s plan pretty much goes in the entirely opposite direction. It is also worthwhile to note that the ACLU crunched some numbers to show that the state could meet the court order only using the techniques Brown has previously supported.

Now here is where Steinberg comes in. If he can get the plaintiffs to settle, and the court agrees to a delay, perhaps we have created the real opportunity that we need to follow the lead of other states like Kansas (!) that have already done much to decrease the mass incarcerations that have been building in our country over the past fifty years. In fact, the ACLU has a very interesting report on the subject. While three years may not be the time frame everybody would ideally target, it is realistic. And maybe Steinberg’s plan is a good start on how we get there.

Now, as for that plan, you can see an outline here or over the flip. It is far from perfect. It calls for an advisory commission to review our public safety system, but doesn’t really provide the specifics of how we really get to the important reductions we need in our prison system. However, maybe that lack of specificity is for the best now. Maybe it could set up the conditions of real reform that we need. But if we don’t meet that court order, we’ll be back to square one in three years. And maybe those three years could make a big difference.

Durable Solutions – Senate Democratic Caucus – Aug2813