California prisons in crisis: Gov. Brown’s solutions are ill-conceived2 min read

Jay Serrano, Staff Writer

After endless court decisions, legislation and lawsuits, it appears California’s penal system has failed.

The most public failure of the state prison system is its inability to provide adequate living space for its inmates.

Overcrowding has long been serious issue. In 2009, a federal court ordered the state to release nearly 48,000 inmates, according to the L.A. Times.

Almost four years later, California still needs to release 9,600 inmates by the end of the year in order to comply with the court’s mandate.

According to the Times, Gov. Jerry Brown will be held in contempt of court if the state does not comply by January 2014.

Despite the failure to comply, Brown declared earlier this year that the prison crisis is over in California, after instituting a new solution called realignment, which moves prisoners to county jails.

In theory, realignment allows counties to assign drug counseling and propose alternatives to jail time for low-level offenders.

In practice, realignment fails more often than it succeeds.

“As part of realignment, the state currently allocates money to counties based on how many prisoners each county sent to state prison before the reform took effect,” according to The Economist.

This is a problem, because this approach encourages counties to keep the old tough-on-crime approach of locking up inmates and throwing away the key.

The second problem is it discourages counties from taking alternate approaches.

If counties decide to send low-level drug offenders to drug therapy instead of prison, they do not get the same amount of funding.

A panel of three federal judges decided realignment has not been effective, and have ordered Brown to find another way to reduce the prison population.

The most recent proposal is to move prisoners from state run prisons to privately owned prisons, according to the Associated Press.

This approach does nothing to solve the problem.

If California continues on this path of moving prisoners, the problem will only be momentarily halted.

Realignment has caused the population in Los Angeles County jails to rise from 14,500 to 17,000, according to The Economist.

One way to address prison overcrowding would be to reduce recidivism, which is a measure of the percentage of prisoners who return to jail for offenses similar to those they were originally arrested for. California’s recidivism rate, including parole violations, is 65.1 percent — the worst in the nation.

If this rate can be lowered, prison populations will decrease as a direct result.

One reason recidivism rates are so high is a lack of adequate assistance for released inmates to find work.

If parolees must turn to crime to survive, they will be more likely to be rearrested.

If the state can address the recidivism issue, progress will be made toward fixing the population crisis.

The California prison system is broken and the solutions are not working. The next step should be alternative remedies that have been shown to reduce crime and costs to taxpayers.

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