The Assembly’s passage of a prison “reform” bill is not the end of the line for the legislation, as the Senate simply won’t accept it in this form.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the reaction in the Senate to the Assembly’s low calorie prison bill was muted. Senate Democrats certainly wouldn’t have come out and said the plan stinks. But there’s no official timetable on a reconciliation vote in the upper house, either.
The official response from Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg came in a written statement: “The Assembly took a good first step today but it’s not a complete package. In the coming weeks, I look forward to working with (Assembly) Speaker Karen Bass and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on further reforms that will strengthen our criminal justice system.”
The key phrase in that statement: “In the coming weeks.” This one’s not going to go away anytime soon.
The main reason is that the Assembly bill costs $233 million more to the overall budget than the Senate’s, and that money simply does not exist. It’ll eventually come out of the hides of other programs if allowed to let stand. And the Assembly Republicans and Democrats who help up the bill can then explain why it was necessary to keep terminally ill blind people in jail at the expense of children’s health care or some other social program.
Steinberg expanded on his dissent from the Assembly bill today, calling the legislature’s inability to pass the reforms based on cuts they already passed in July an example of the legislature’s “culture of failure”. I’ve been saying that for weeks.
Meanwhile, I’m hearing a lot of reactionaries taking the example of Phillip Garrido, the kidnapper of Jaycee Lee Dugard, and the fact that he only served 10 1/2 years of a 50-year kidnapping sentence in the 1970s, to argue for more stringent parole and prison laws in California. This is the typical Willie Horton-ing of any sane discourse on prison policy. Garrido was convicted of a FEDERAL crime, not a state crime. And that federal parole policy was abolished by 1987. It bears no application to this debate whatsoever, particularly since, under this policy, violent criminals would not be subject to release and would face more stringent parole supervision, as resources would be allocated to those who require it. The failure of parole officers to discover Garrido’s deviance demands EXACTLY the kind of parole reform in both the Assembly and Senate bill, so officers have smaller caseloads and can focus on the most dangerous cases instead of returning nonviolent offenders to prison for technical violations.
Meanwhile, the Governor, even while promoting a real reform plan, wants to get a stay from federal judges on implementing the required reduction of 44,000 to the prison population, which even the Senate bill doesn’t do. He plans to file an appeal with the US Supreme Court as well, and if the three-judge panel doesn’t grant the stay, he’ll ask the Supremes to do so.
Sacramento politicians are still in between the “denial” and “bargaining” stage in reacting to their immoral and unconstitutional handling of the prison crisis.