Prison Reform – Smart Choice for California

San Diego Defenders - JusticePrison Reform – Smart Choice for California

California Governor Jerry Brown recently announced a ballot initiative for this November that would provide a path for convicts in State prison to get early release.

The way the law is now, prisoners have little incentive to try and improve themselves while in prison. It used to be that prison had two purposes: punishment and REHABILITATION. But, over the last 30 to 40 years the emphasis on rehabilitation has nearly disappeared. Instead, warehousing criminals for longer and longer periods of time was the trend.

Nobody wants a dangerous criminal running around free. But, at a certain point, we have to take a step back and look at what is going on.

First, the stauncher sentencing laws that were passed over the last few decades were pushed for by prison guards’ unions and the corporations that build new prisons. It was driven by the desire for them to make more money, not to keep citizens safe.

Second, the costs of housing people in prison are astronomical. It costs an average of $47,000.00 per year to keep an inmate in prison in California. Over two thirds of that price tag is for security and health care. Obviously, the older the prisoner gets, the greater the costs of health care. In fact, because the cost of health care is so staggering for prisoners, California has been sued in Federal Court because the prisoners are not getting adequate health care.

At a time of crumbling infrastructure, California would be wise to shift as much of its financial resources to dealing with roads and bridges, not to mention securing our water supply which is in dire risk if an earthquake strikes in the Sacramento Delta region.

Third, prisoners who do get out of prison are usually worse than when they went in. There is a lot of education that goes on in our prisons. But, instead of lots of learning to read and write or learning a trade so the person can be a productive member of society when they do get released, they are learning how to be more ruthless criminals. Prison gangs are rampant in our correctional institutions. When someone goes into prison, they immediately have to make a choice: Do they risk being isolated and thus an easy target for attack and rape? Or, do they join a gang to have some protection? Either way, the person is going to come out of custody worse than they were before and all the more likely to keep committing crimes against the rest of us.

Governor Brown’s proposed initiative would create a system where when prisoners behaved properly inside and worked in training and rehabilitation programs could earn an earlier release than if they don’t. This makes so much sense. I am sure some people would worry that some prisoners who ultimately plan on committing more crimes when they get out would use this proposed program to get back out on the street as soon as possible. But, the chance of that is minimal. The people who are planning to continue their life of crime will be doing so in prison and not qualify for the early release.