The case for prison reform

Are you willing to accept more dangerous felons in your neighborhood because too many politicians in Sacramento won’t accept that there is a safer alternative to the governor’s early release plan?


We all agree that our prisons are failing.  Cost overruns, missed deadlines, judicial receivers, riots, and the highest recidivism rate in the country prove this basic fact.

But we need smart reform that protects our communities, not a quick fix that releases 27,000 convicted felons without adequate supervision.


The reality is that our state prisons are filled with hardened criminals.  Putting these criminals back into our communities can cause tragedy and death.  We learned this lesson recently when a man was released from state prison under the supervision of an overworked parole agent who had more than 120 felons to monitor.  As the result of a plea agreement with the district attorney, he was released from state prison after just three years, despite the fact that he had nearly beaten a man to death during a carjacking in San Francisco.  This felon then went missing, and before our overburdened system could catch up with him, he had accumulated a massive arsenal and launched a deadly crime spree that ended in the murder of four police officers in Oakland.


The police officers who risk – and all too often must give – their lives to protect us know that the current early release plan is a tragic mistake. The men and women of law enforcement have been overwhelmingly opposed to the plan because it fails to make sure that felons receive proper supervision once they are back in our communities.

Unfortunately, the package that was sent to the Assembly last week seemed to be more influenced by expediency than public safety.


The plan relies on unrealistic budget projections that are unlikely to materialize at the promised levels given our high recidivism rates.  It is not cheaper to release a felon if that same person is going to continue to commit crimes, absorb police resources, require a new trial, and end up back in prison. Fortunately, there is a better alternative.


I am proud to say that the package the Assembly will vote on this Monday is one that I have worked closely with the Speaker, district attorneys, sheriffs, police chiefs and others to help craft and improve. This improved prison reform plan will save hundreds of millions of dollars, reduce parole officer caseloads, redirect focus to dangerous parolees, modernize our penal code and provide incentives for reducing recidivism.


Specifically, the amended bill eliminates the practice of returning parolees to prison for technical violations, provides sentencing credits to encourage inmates to participate in programs that reduce recidivism, lowers the target parolee supervision levels from 70:1 to 45:1 and provides federal money to counties to develop recidivism reduction programs.


Let's hear what the public safety experts are calling for – smarter reform that makes our communities safer.

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