Monday, October 10, 2011

Musical Chairs & Inmates

California Begins Re-Arranging Chairs on the Titanic:

Facing an unprecedented order from the Supreme Court to decrease its inmate population by 11,000 over the next three months and by 34,000 over the next two years, California prisons last week began to shift inmates to county jails and probation officers, starting what many believe will be a fundamental and far-reaching change in the nation’s largest corrections system.

Under the plan, inmates who have committed nonviolent, nonserious and nonsexual offenses will be released back to the county probation system rather than to state parole officers. Those newly convicted of such crimes will be sent directly to the counties, which will decide if they should go to a local jail or to an alternative community program. And newly accused defendants may wear electronic monitoring bracelets while they await trial.
Incredible. I wrote about this case back in May, expecting that California would come up with an equitable plan to release these non-violent offenders. Instead, we get one of the more egg-headed plans ever put forward, while the real culprit, sentencing, is getting away scott-free.
In what the state calls a realignment of the criminal justice system, the plan places more responsibilities on the counties, and some local officials say they are unprepared and underfinanced to get the job done. But state officials say that keeping inmates closer to their communities will increase the chances that they can be rehabilitated, rather than in and out of state prison.

Matthew Cate, the secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the state hoped that the counties would concentrate on rehabilitating prisoners and helping them reintegrate into the community, something the state system was never able to do. Figures show that nearly 70 percent of inmates in California prisons end up there again.
Except this has nothing to do with rehabilitation, and everything to do with draconian sentencing laws on the books in California.
Some city and county officials say that the changes are likely to overwhelm local law enforcement agencies and that the state has not given them enough time or money to prepare. Last week, Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa of Los Angeles and the city’s police chief, Charlie Beck, said they would have to reassign 150 police officers to help monitor the former inmates.

But Mr. Cate dismissed the criticisms, saying the state had no other choice and had been coordinating plans for months.

“Everyone just wants to inoculate themselves from any kind of crime increase and blame it on realignment,” Mr. Cate said. “This is some massive change. It’s going to be subtle and happen over time.”

“We don’t have a lot of options,” Mr. Cate said. “The question years from now will really be: Did we avoid a disaster?”
No, the question years from now will be "why didn't California reform its sentencing laws (including its medieval version of Three Strikes) which has put men in prison for 25 years-life without parole for stealing cookies, pizza, bicycles and packs of AA batteries.

What this represents is a massive failure of the governor and legislature in that state to, as the one law and order sheriff put it,"simply release 10,000 inmates." When law enforcement recognizes that most of these people don't belong under correctional control to begin with, it helps you understand why punishment is still the third rail in politics, and why the correctional-industrial complex is as powerful as ever.

The governor and legislators, still cowed by the get tough mentality from the 90's, are just re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic California prison system. The tab for the long, drunken imprisonment binge of the past 15 years has finally come due, and it looks like the state is merely passing the hangover on to the counties and cities.

Good luck with that.

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