Posts Tagged ‘jerry brown’
On October 1, California will start diverting low-level felony offenders and parole violators to county jail, rather than state prison, when a new law, known as “realignment,” goes into effect. The law was proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown as a way to bring the California prison system into compliance with the Supreme Court’s order to alleviate overcrowding, and was enacted by the Legislature in March as AB 109. I thought I’d run through a few basics of how the law will work and round up some recent news coverage from around the state. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive resource, the ACLU of Northern California has produced a helpful guide (PDF) to the law and how counties can plan for the changes.
- How will AB 109 change California sentencing practices? As of October 1, the law transfers responsibility for punishing non-serious, non-violent, non-sex felony offenses to the county level, where misdemeanors are already handled. So rather than being sent to state prison, these low-level offenders will now be punished with a term in county jail or whatever alternative sanction the county comes up with. (For those familiar with the California Penal Code, generally we’re talking about felonies punishable by the “16 months/2 years/3 years” triad.) Read the rest of this entry »
A new report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office in Sacramento concludes that Gov. Jerry Brown’s “realignment” approach to reducing the prison rolls may not cut numbers enough to satisfy the Supreme Court’s order in Plata v. Schwarzenegger. The Sacramento Bee reports:
Facing a deadline two years from now to cut inmate populations by 34,000, the state plans to begin shifting inmates to county jails on Oct. 1.
But a report released Friday by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office suggests that corrections officials may not be able to meet the June 27, 2013, deadline but can make a case to the courts that more time is needed.
“Given the dramatic policy changes the Legislature already has approved, we believe the state has a strong case to make to the courts for a grant of more time to implement this complex realignment of responsibilities from the state to counties,” the report states.
The Los Angeles Times notes that the report recommends sending more inmates to out-of-state private prisons, contrary to Gov. Brown’s plan to cut back on privatization. Also check out the San Francisco Chronicle‘s coverage. You can download the full LAO report here.
That’s the conclusion that KALW reporter Nancy Mullane found when she ran the numbers. Kudos to Mullane for her dogged pursuit of this data, employing California’s Public Records Act. I thought I’d provide some additional context, mainly in the form of rounding up some links.
Caveat before I go on: It’s essential to keep in mind, when reading about criminal justice issues, that every state has different laws, policies, and terminology. This post is mainly about California, and in particular, about California prisoners serving life terms with the possibility of parole — which is a subset of the California prison population, mainly convicted of murder. For non-homicide crimes, California offenders are typically sentenced to determinate terms of a fixed number of years. They don’t have to go before the parole board because they’re automatically released, or “paroled,” when their term ends. The terminology is confusing, because the word “parole” is used to describe the release of both subsets of prisoners.
The fact is this: Because of the tough-on-crime turn of the 1980s and ’90s, many prisoners who were initially sentenced to life with the possibility of parole are now effectively serving LWOP or “death-in-prison” terms. It simply became a political near-impossibility to rubber-stamp the release of a convicted murderer. This bait-and-switch has happened in states across the country, though with different legal and administrative underpinnings in each state. In Virginia, parole-eligible inmates claim that the parole board summarily denies parole in every case. In Michigan, it was changes to the composition of the parole board that effectively made parole harder to earn.
In California, the change came in 1988. That year, Golden State voters transferred to the governor the final say on all parole decisions for murderers serving life terms. Read the rest of this entry »
Jerry Brown, once the youngest governor in California’s history, will now take office as its oldest. For AG, the Golden State will have Steve Cooley, who’s called for reforming California’s three strikes law (sort of) while overseeing a DA’s office that sent more felons to death row than all of Texas last year. What might all of this mean for prison reform? Rather than speculate myself, I’d actually be curious to hear from readers in comments or via e-mail. UPDATE: When I wrote this post last night the Los Angeles Times had called the AG race for Cooley, but now it looks like Kamala Harris may win by a hair. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, I thought readers might be interested or at least amused in some reminiscences of the (first) Jerry Brown administration. These are from a 1988 oral history given by John Nejedly, former state senator and an architect of California’s determinate sentencing regime, which Brown signed into law (PDF link):
There were a lot of things about him, but if you could show something that was socially wrong, had a fundamental social inconsistency, you could get his attention. He was pretty close to the Jesuits, so I got some people in the Jesuit hierarchy to talk to him about it [prisons], because I went with them over to the same prison on Thursday nights, when we would go over there, and they called him, told him what the problems were. It was a minister, you know, that put that resolution of the Attica thing into place, and he called him …
Not for nothing did they call him Governor Moonbeam:
But it was a much more fluid, flexible, unmanaged system with Brown than it was with Reagan. You could pretty well predict Reagan. But Brown. *** Especially when he got into that screwy presidential campaign; that was bonkers. He was all over the place and he had a good looking dolly going over to Africa with him and he flips from that scene and he goes to New Hampshire and screws that one up. and Illinois. God, it was bananas.
But I liked the guy! If I met him today, I’d invite him to go on a hike. He’s the kind of a person you’d go on a hike with.
The Sacramento Bee editorial board gets it right:
Few accused California Govs. Ronald Reagan or George Deukmejian of being “soft on crime.” But in today’s political climate, who knows? During Reagan’s tenure, the number of prisoners per 100,000 Californians was 121; during Deukmejian’s tenure, it was 230.
Last year, it was 436. Not surprisingly, keeping a much greater proportion of the state’s population behind bars has severely strained the state budget. The state faces an increasingly aged prison population, as lawmakers have created longer and longer sentences and reduced the ability of prisoners to shave off time for good behavior.
This state has a prison population problem and is under a federal court order to reduce it. The next governor and attorney general will inherit that task.
But you won’t hear the candidates making proposals for reversing prison population trends. Driven by fear of the “soft on crime” label, caution is the order of the day.
For what it’s worth, I voiced some opinions about Meg Whitman’s excuse for a criminal justice platform here at the blog, and in a Bee op-ed, earlier this year. Jerry Brown is not ideal either, but I at least feel confident that he understands the issues. After all, he’s the one who presided over the switch to determinate sentencing in the late ’70s that, in some ways, is what got California’s prison spiral going. One thing I can say for certain — having spent much of last spring reading legislative archives from the (first?) Jerry Brown years for a research project — is that I am the only history graduate student I know who’s ever had the option to vote for the subject of her most recent research paper.