Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

In Press, California AG Candidates Criticize Prison Budget Cuts

with 3 comments

As I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, California axed two-thirds of its prison rehabilitation programs in its most recent round of budget cuts. Now, those budget cuts are coming in for criticism from across the political spectrum, as recently reported in a couple of San Francisco Chronicle articles and editorials. And by “across the political spectrum,” I mean, across the list of contenders for the 2010 Democratic Party nomination for California Attorney General. OK, well, at least two of the contenders.

Here’s San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris:

“We know that when you go to prison and come out with no changed circumstances, you are prime to reoffend,” she said. “The first and principal priority should be prevention.”

And here’s California Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D – Torrance, Los Angeles County), a former military prosecutor:

“I believe the best way to reduce prison costs is to inject money into rehabilitation programs. … If it works for a certain percentage of people, that’s really all we need,” said Lieu, who believes the policy changes will make it easier for inmates to get credit for time served.

But, interestingly enough, here’s Assemblyman Lieu again — in an op-ed co-signed by California victims’ rights advocate Harriet Salarno:

[W]hile the time a criminal spends in prison is for punishment, it can also be used for rehabilitation and change. This time is wasted unless it’s used to teach an inmate to read, earn a high school diploma, acquire life skills, complete anger management courses, learn a trade or otherwise provide them with alternatives to a life of crime. …

If an inmate spends five years in a state prison, is released without rehabilitation, re-offends, and then is sent back to prison, what have we gained? The department’s approach is unwise and dangerous. Unreformed inmates are very likely to re-offend, which means more crimes will be committed, more victims created, more lives torn apart. Where is the reform?

Salarno, whose daughter was murdered in 1979, has been a long-time, outspoken proponent of stiffer sentencing laws. She is the head of Crime Victims United of California, which receives much of its funding from California’s powerful prison guards’ union (the CCPOA) (see, e.g., this law student paper documenting the linkages). Usually when I encounter Salarno’s name in the news, it’s preceding a quotation to the effect of, “you won’t ever get out if you get a life sentence” or “There is no such thing in prison as a non-violent offender.”

These positions may not be totally incompatible with the position that prisons should offer a comprehensive array of rehabilitation programs, but I think it’s fair to say this op-ed is a bit of a departure from the type of rhetoric that Salarno is best known for. As such, and given Salarno’s name recognition among those who follow California corrections policy, I wonder if Assemblyman Lieu‘s decision to co-sign an op-ed with her was an attempt at a sort of strategic doublespeak? For those who know Salarno’s background, this shared byline positions Lieu to the right of Harris as a “law-and-order,” “tough-on-crime” candidate. Yet if you read this op-ed without knowing much about Salarno, you could just as easily come away thinking of Lieu as a pretty standard liberal supporter of robust rehabilitation programming for prisoners.

(This is pure speculation on my part and may be woefully off-track — please correct me by leaving comments, dear readers, if so! — as I am a recent migrant to the Golden State and certainly no expert on California politics, or really politics of any kind. But, such a strategy would seem to fit with Assemblyman Lieu’s campaign so far in which he has garnered endorsements from local law enforcement groups: see here and here. Lieu has suggested he’d be an activist AG on environmental issues, but perhaps wants to position himself as more of a conservative “law-and-order” candidate when it comes to crime? That would certainly be a smart way to play the race since Kamala Harris is unlikely to have much luck there, in light of her controversial decision not to seek the death penalty against the killer of a San Francisco police officer. Tellingly, while her website lists endorsements from a few individual police chiefs — most notably, the internationally celebrated former NYPD/LAPD police chief and “broken windows” guru Bill Bratton — I don’t see any law enforcement departments, unions, or organizations listed.)


3 Responses

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  1. So Ms. Harris, you send people to prison, knowing they will be released and will then reoffend. You are admitting that what you do is of no significance. Supposedly progressive statements by DAs who occupy chairs in offices for short periods of time while they plan their ascent to higher chairs in higher offices come off as almost totally hollow. You spent years sending people to prison in a state that is not able to provide even minimal levels of care for its prisoners. You did utterly nothing to address homelessness in San Francisco. Not that I would expect such a thing from someone who embraces the continuing criminalization of poverty. Just stop with the pseudo-liberal campaign rhetoric. Product!!


    February 17, 2010 at 11:42 am

  2. […] lobby group that receives much of its funding from California’s prison guard union (see my earlier post here) — has filed a lawsuit challenging California’s recently implemented law, expected to […]

  3. […] axed two-thirds of its prison rehabilitation programs, a move some politicians and commentators have criticized. Today in the Sacramento Bee is another op-ed lamenting the cuts, this one from Orson Aguilar, a […]

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