LA Times Comments on California Prison Reform

201408.28

Man sitting in jailThe prison population in California has been in crisis for some time, but overcrowding is once again in the news, thanks to an expose by the Los Angeles Times. The Times has reported that the 2010 plan to relieve overcrowding has backfired on the backs of the state budget and the county jail systems.

Inmates in various state prisons and human rights advocates are calling once again for change. For those who are accused of a crime and placed in jail, they can get relief through a bail bonds agent. Others are not so lucky.

Assembly Bill 109

The plan, which was proposed by Governor Brown, was passed as Assembly Bill 109. It called for moving certain inmates to county jails, relieving overcrowding in state prisons. It also gave certain inmates a chance to work with the probation department, qualifying them for early release. At the time, the plan seemed viable to many. The underlying reasoning was that qualified inmates were low risks and might be better off in a less violent prison or on probation. Qualification for county placement was limited to those who were convicted of nonviolent offenses, particularly those that were not sex-related and/or considered non-serious.

In the Los Angeles Time article, it was revealed that the shift has simply placed the burden on county jails. County jails are much more crowded, making the bail bondsman’s role even more important for those who are incarcerated pending trial. The state has spent more than $2 billion on the plan, which has not helped ease the state’s financial burden. This was directed toward the care of 142,000 felons who were moved into county jails across the state. The state already spends about $10 billion a year to secure, feed and house prisoners.

The courts got involved in 2011 and again in 2013. The courts directed the California prison system to reduce overcrowding due to inhumane conditions. In both those years, inmates staged well-publicized hunger strikes that brought the issue before the public. The largest hunger strike ever was in 2013 when 30,000 inmates participated. Their call for relief has not yet been realized.

Worst of all, the plan did not provide a permanent fix. State prisons are reaching overcrowded levels again. The result is that both county and state inmate populations are at higher risk for safety issues and human rights violations. There is no political fix on the horizon, but the Los Angeles Times article may focus politicians on the problem.

Democrat and Republican Divides

Any plan is controversial, of course, leading to political arguments that go beyond Democrat and Republican divides. Where will the compromise come? Sentencing may get a second look since many pundits blame the “Three Strikes Law”. This law lengthens sentences for second-time offenders and requires lifetime sentences for third-time offenders. Until overcrowding is relieved, the defendant awaiting trial can get help from a bail bondsman.