Wednesday, January 27, 2010

California begins release of thousands of nonviolent offenders

I normally try to stick to Texas stories, but this news out of California merits the attention of anybody who cares about the topis covered on this blog ("Inmates released under new law," San Diego Union Tribune, Jan. 26):

A new law aimed at reducing the state’s inmate population took effect yesterday and had an immediate effect in San Diego County, where about 260 nonviolent offenders were released.

The convicts here — all doing time for offenses such as drug possession or petty theft — were let go under a provision that forces local officials to retroactively recalculate how they shorten sentences for good behavior and other credits.

Local law enforcement and court officials reviewed the files of 1,600 inmates, including those in county jails, to determine who should get out early, said Lisa Rodriguez, a deputy district attorney. Those convicted of serious, violent or sex crimes aren’t eligible for the accelerated credits, Rodriguez said.

Statewide, corrections officials launched their plan to reduce the prison population by 6,500 inmates and save the state more than $100 million over the next year. They said some of the revamped program’s elements will cut down on recidivism and allow parole agents to focus attention on more dangerous former convicts.

This is just the first step. Judges have ordered California to reduce its inmate population by 40,000 in the next couple of years. If they come even close to that, it will leave Texas (with only 60% of California's population) as the largest prison system in the country.

See related Grits posts:


Mike Howard said...

I'm all for reducing incarceration time for nonviolent offenders for all the obvious reasons. I'm not sure adjusting good time credit etc is the way to do it though. In Texas, for instance, each county sheriff's department decides how to handle their inmates' time credit. In Dallas, inmates get 3 days credit for every one day. In Collin county, I believe they get 1 for 1. Some counties do 2-1. The problem I've seen is that prosecutors in each county seem to adjust the sentence for a given crime based on how long they know the inmate will actually serve. So in Dallas somebody will get a 30 day sentence (10 calendar days) for something that would get them 10 days or fewer in another county. So at the end of the day, adjusting time credit formulas doesn't end up doing much to reduce overcrowding.

IMHO a state law that limited the actual sentence for nonviolent offenders would be more effective.

Anonymous said...

I would assume that Grits views this news as cause for celebration???!!!

Jennie said...

Referencing Mike Howard ... In El Paso you can work off your fines and court costs by spending days in jail. They credit you with $60 per day and yet it costs the state dollars to house you daily. So if you owe $600 in tickets you can spend 10 days in jail. You are fed and don't have to work while the state credits you for sitting there and playing cards and feeding you.

Somehow this reminds me of double dipping as it is like the state is paying you twice.

And you can get double time if you volunteer to go dig graves.

Anonymous said...

Do the releases includes letters of apology to the victims, judges and juries who got fooled?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:39, it's neither good nor bad, it just is - incarcerating people costs money. If you're not willing to pay, you can't lock up every petty nonviolent offender. California waited until the decision was forced upon them, but it's better to choose to incarcerate less in a controlled manner. Either way, mass incarceration is a rich society's hobby. It's unsustainable in a climate of governmental poverty, which is why you've seen so many states close prisons or reduce inmate populations.

10:09, all those victims, jurors, etc., voted for the same California pols who decided not to adequately fund prison health care. Lots of folks disdain politicians, but it's my observation that people tend to get the representation they deserve. Californians like tax cuts, which is fine, but government can't provide services the public's not willing to pay for, including incarceration.

Charlie O said...


It would be my guess that Anon. 8:39 and 10:09 are one in the same. But you're befuddling him/her with logic and reason.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm Anon 8:39 and I'm not the same person as Anon 10:09 FWIW..... At any rate, I think Grits would make a great spokesman for the NRA. Can't you just see him posed on the back cover of an NRA publication clutching an AR-15 in his hands with a Glock in his holster. There could be a cool caption at the top or bottom of the page something along the lines of the following: "....because you know we can't lock them all up!" LOL!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:19, I've never been a spokesman for the NRA, but I've collaborated with the Texas State Rifle Association at times, including authoring this report (pdf) that was jointly published with them.

Also, since you're fantasizing, no Glock in the holster. My home security system is provided by Sig Sauer.

sunray's wench said...

The majority of these inmates will go straight back to the neighbourhoods and "friends" they were with before incarceration. It will be interesting to see some recidivism figures in a year's time. If more than 50% of these inmates are back in prison within a year of this particular release, then it will not have served it's purpose by targeting people by the crime they have been sentenced for.

It would be better to first look at those who are costing the state a lot of money (elderly, sick inmates) and those who have exemplary records while incarcerated.

Anonymous said...

The sad part about all of this is the fact that the forest is always in the way. We are going to continue to find excuses for our actions in how we punish bad behavior because of jail overcrowding, and financial burden, and our actions in return continue to promote criminal behavior.

I’m not saying that the penalty for a huge portion of low level crimes and a great number of felonies shouldn’t be reconsidered, in that for many of these people their first brush with the law may very well be their last and the true crime that exist is stupidity.

If it is not a violent crime then a first offender should be able to receive an [unsupervised] probation period that if successfully completed, calculated solely by their not getting into any kind of trouble, removes the original conviction, so that they can go on to live a normal life unaffected by their previous stupidity. The current way we do things has a ton of fines and conditions that involve government participation and expense. A great deal of expensive government supervised hoopla could be trashed.

The majority of these crimes encompass some type of theft or drugs. It’s reasonable to assume that when a person resorts to thievery a financial burden of some sort is the decision maker in their stupidity. The war on drugs is a disaster and should be completely restructured.

Given the overall cost involved in the incarceration and prosecution of these crimes for first offenders the government would be better served to waive the fine, set a bare minimum jail sentence, or unsupervised probation, let a government run victims fund reimburse for the theft crime and hope that the criminal defendant is done with ever being arrested again for the rest of their life.

Where the real problem comes in is when the criminal defendants who (are) criminals and will continue to be criminals start working the system. If they know that they can keep their crime within the right boundaries and get released quickly then crime becomes even more attractive.

The nature of the crime can not be the only deciding factor and it sounds like California may be dead set on playing roulette by mandating early releases just to satisfy their budget requirements. They spend a lot of money in California as does all of government on things like getting the House Speaker and a ton of other politicians and their families to Copenhagen, the pet projects and special interests that receive tax dollars in this country swallow enormous amounts of money and this is not the representation anyone deserves or has asked for and the rich societies hobby would appear to be the hobbies of those who are privileged with the power to serve the people, but these projects are all so worthwhile that it is worth taking the risk I’m sure, so spin the wheel and place your bets.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"it sounds like California may be dead set on playing roulette by mandating early releases just to satisfy their budget requirements"

Actually, fwiw, they're doing this in response to a court order.

Anonymous said...

Excellent point, the Government will decide what is best, everybody eat your spinach.

Anonymous said...

"the Government will decide what is best, everybody eat your spinach "

Yeah, because everybody knows the Legislature isn't "the Government." Grits where do you find these loons?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"where do you find these loons?"

I don't. They find me.