Part of the Bay Area News Group

Archive for the 'State Prisons' Category

Jerry Brown cancels new death-row housing

Gov. Jerry Brown just announced he’s canceling plans to build new housing for condemned inmates at San Quentin State Prison.

“At a time when children, the disabled and seniors face painful cuts to essential programs, the State of California cannot justify a massive expenditure of public dollars for the worst criminals in our state,” he said in a news release. “California will have to find another way to address the housing needs of condemned inmates. It would be unconscionable to earmark $356 million for a new and improved death row while making severe cuts to education and programs that serve the most vulnerable among us.”

Planning for a new condemned inmate housing facility at San Quentin began in 2003 under Gov. Gray Davis and continued under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The facility was designed to hold 1,152 inmates, allowing for future growth in the condemned population; California currently has 713 condemned inmates, of whom 42 are from Alameda County and 18 are from Contra Costa County.

Brown’s office says the project would have added another $356 million to the state’s debt, at an annual cost of $28.5 million in debt service that would have come out of General Fund dollars.

UPDATE @ 3:08 P.M.: From state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco:

“Governor Brown should be praised for his thoughtful decision to reject the ill-conceived plan to build a new death row inmate complex at San Quentin, which would have cost the state more than $1.6 billion over the next decade,” said Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. “Given the severity of our budget crisis, it makes no sense to spend millions of General Fund dollars every year on this wasteful plan. We have known for a long time that the project has deep flaws, including inexcusably high construction and operating costs and the fact that the complex is likely to run out of space just three years after it opens.

“Working with the Senate Budget Committee, which I chair, we included budget bill language requiring the question of double bunking of death row inmates to be legally resolved before the project proceeded. Lacking this resolution, the Condemned Inmate Complex expansion would have reached capacity within three years of its completion, leaving taxpayers with a billion dollar hangover. I thank Assemblymember Jared Huffman for his commitment and partnership in stopping this mistake.”

From the Twitter feed of state Sen. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach:

Guv wants new way 2 address condemned inmate housing. Execute em. Problem solved

Posted on Thursday, April 28th, 2011
Under: Jerry Brown, state budget, State Prisons | 7 Comments »

The old ‘tough on crime’ is tough on budgets

I co-authored a story in last Friday’s Tribune about how “tough on crime” – a phrase always subject to interpretation, but well-worn enough in modern politics almost to be considered cliché – is in a state of flux as fiscal conservatives start to say that locking them up and throwing away the key doesn’t make sense anymore.

Today, I see more evidence that this is so, and more strange bedfellows as a result. Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, Bush Administration Education Secretary Rod Paige and former American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene will join NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous on Thursday to launch a campaign to influence state budgets and federal policy in order to reduce incarceration.

“We need to be ‘smart on crime’ rather than ‘tough on crime’ and address soaring incarceration rates in this country,” Jealous said in a news release. “Failing schools, college tuition hikes and shrinking state education budgets are narrowing the promise of education for young people all across the country. Meanwhile, allocations for our incarceration system continue to increase, sending our youth the wrong message about their future.”

Thursday’s rollout of the NAACP’s report entitled “Misplaced Priorities: Under Educate, Over Incarcerate” will take place at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a pair of bills into law yesterday that he says will fundamentally change California’s correctional system to halt the costly and inefficient “revolving door” of low-level offenders and parole violators through state prisons.

“For too long, the state’s prison system has been a revolving door for lower-level offenders and parole violators who are released within months—often before they are even transferred out of a reception center,” Brown said in his AB 109 signing message. “Cycling these offenders through state prisons wastes money, aggravates crowded conditions, thwarts rehabilitation, and impedes local law enforcement supervision.”

AB 109 changes the law to realign certain responsibilities for lower level offenders, adult parolees and juvenile offenders from state to local jurisdictions; the governor’s office says it will give local law enforcement the right and the ability to manage offenders in smarter and cost-effective ways. It won’t go into effect until a community corrections grant program is created by statute and funding is appropriated. “I will not sign any legislation that would seek to implement this legislation without the necessary funding,” Brown said.

No strange bedfellows here, however: GOP lawmakers have opposed Brown’s effort to secure funding for this realignment. “In the coming weeks, and for as long as it takes, I will vigorously pursue my plan to balance the state’s budget and prevent reductions to public safety through a constitutional guarantee,” Brown said.

Brown’s office was careful to note that when AB 109 is implemented, no inmates currently in state prison will be released early; all felons sent to state prison will continue to serve their entire sentence; all felons who are convicted of a serious or violent offense — including sex offenders and child molesters — will still go to state prison; and felons who are not eligible for state prison can serve their sentence at the local level.

UPDATE @ 1:47 P.M.: Assembly Budget Committee Vice Chairman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, underscored his caucus’ opposition to this bill with a news release today.

“Governor Brown signed AB 109 after sunset yesterday the so-called Public Safety bill, which is everything but that. It was appropriate that he chose to sign this abominable legislation as dark descended on California.

“This legislation turns California’s Criminal Justice System profoundly, in favor of criminals, and unarguably places all of us and our families at vastly greater risk to become victims of crime.

“Upwards of 68,000 un-rehabilitated, unremorseful criminals will be in our communities, largely unsupervised, without even bare minimum rehabilitative opportunities and greatly diminished, if any, consequences for their continued victimization of Californians.

“The governor signed the bill even though there is no funding to pay local government for the burden being dumped on them.

“It would appear to be a cynical ploy to coerce Legislators and the people of California to support tax increases. In fact, AB109 is now the most compelling reason to oppose these taxes – starving this beast of a bill before it’s unleashed.

“I urge all Californians to speak loudly and long against this ill-conceived travesty of justice.”

But prison-reform advocates aren’t crazy about the bill either.

“This plan is a shell game that would simply shift corrections costs from the state to the counties without addressing the real problem: California is locking up too many people for low-level offenses for too long,” Allen Hopper, police practices director with the ACLU of Northern California, said in a news release. “The massive cost of incarceration is robbing the people of California of vitally needed services, including education and healthcare. What we need is real sentencing reform, such as shortening the sentences for simple possession drug crimes. It’s time for California to stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars incarcerating people who pose no threat to public safety.”

“This plan would allow people to be locked up in local jails for up to three years, triple the current limit. Research consistently shows that longer sentences do not produce better outcomes. In fact, shorter sentences coupled with re-entry and prevention tactics are both more effective and more cost-effective,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director in Southern California for the Drug Policy Alliance. “We’re talking about people convicted of low-level offenses, like drug possession, prostitution and petty theft, often related to a drug problem. But the plan doesn’t include a dime for drug treatment or mental health care. In fact, the governor has proposed reducing funds for those services.”

“Any California corrections reform must include sentencing reform,” said Kris Lev-Twombly, director of programs at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “A felony conviction is a life-long sentence that should not be applied to low-level offenses. No matter how old the conviction, people with a felony on their record will face significantly diminished employment opportunities and much lower lifetime earnings. They may also be prohibited from accessing student loans, food stamps and other public assistance. This works against individual, family and community wellbeing and public safety.”

Posted on Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
Under: education, Jerry Brown, Public safety, state budget, State Prisons | 4 Comments »

Hancock seeks crackdown on gun-toting auditors

State Senate Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock introduced a bill today that would strip the sworn peace-officer status from attorneys and auditors at the state Office of the Inspector General, the independent agency watchdogging the state prison system.

Hancock, D-Berkeley, says her SB 490 would save the state $3.7 million by eliminating the more generous benefits, training and equipment – including guns and cars – provided to the OIG’s 105 attorneys and auditors. In contrast, fewer than five of the Attorney General’s 1,200 attorneys and auditors have peace-officer status.

“This bill starts the process of eliminating the abuse of peace office status in state government and the resulting waste of taxpayer dollars,” Hancock said in a news release. “I want to insure that the Office of the Inspector General continues to carry out its work in a cost-effective manner. I do not believe that peace officer status for their attorneys and auditors is necessary.”

A report issued Nov. 30 by the Senate Office of Oversights and Outcomes entitled, “Gun-toting Auditors and Attorneys: Does the Inspector General Need 105 Armed Peace Officers?” found that outfitting each attorney and auditor with guns, holsters, handcuffs, ammunition and related equipment costs more than $2,000 per employee. The report also found their state-issued cars logged more than 700,000 miles for home-to-work commutes at no cost to the employees, representing about 70 percent of their total mileage.

The state Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee today unanimously approved a motion from Hancock – who chairs its Subcommittee on Corrections, Public Safety and the Judiciary – to reduce the OIG’s budget by $3.4 million and reduce the number of sworn officers in the agency to 25 for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

OIG Chief Deputy Inspector Donald Currier told the Los Angeles Times last November that the office is willing to give up the guns and cars but not its peace-officer pensions, as the job still has risky assignments. “They’re not typical police duties, like CHP officers pulling people over all the time who they don’t know,” Currier said, “but their job is to ferret out criminal wrongdoing in prisons, including abuse of force by correctional officers.” The Times noted, however, that the state Senate report indicated other auditors who investigate criminal wrongdoing at public agencies do so without peace officer status.

UPDATE @ 4:55 P.M.: Hancock’s office clarified that her bill would prevent future OIG hires from getting the more generous pension plans available to peace officers, but current workers’ pensions are legally protected under current agreements. The $3.7 million figure doesn’t include any pension savings, just training and equipment.

Posted on Thursday, February 17th, 2011
Under: California State Senate, Loni Hancock, state budget, State Prisons | 1 Comment »

Schwarzenegger cuts Nunez’ son’s prison term

Arnold Schwarzenegger on his last day as California’s governor has commuted the state prison sentence of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez’ son, who was involved in a fatal stabbing in 2008 near San Diego State University.

Esteban Nunez was serving a 16-year term in connection with the death of Luis Dos Santos.

“Santos’s death is tragic, and I do not discount the gravity of the offense. But given Nunez’s limited role in Santos’s death, and considering that, unlike (Ryan) Jett, Nunez had no criminal record prior to this offense, I believe Nunez’s sentence is excessive,” the governor wrote. “Accordingly, I commute Nunez’s sentence to the lower term for the crimes for which he was convicted: seven years in State prison.”

The commutation cites Nunez’ probation report in noting that he and his friends had been drinking and were turned away from a fraternity party before Jett picked a fight with Santos and Brandon Scheerer. “Not surprisingly, there are different versions of the fight. However, the following key facts are not in dispute: During the fight, Jett stabbed Santos once through the chest, severing his heart,” the commutation says, noting Nunez admitted to stabbing someone else in the stomach; Nunez, Jett and their friends then fled to Sacramento, where they burned their clothes and threw their knives in the Sacramento River.

Nunez, then 19 and with no previous record, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter with the use of a knife, as well as to assaulting and inflicting great bodily injury upon two other people; he was sentenced to a total of 16 years in state prison. Nunez applied for a commutation of his sentence on the ground that his sentence is disproportionate in comparison to the sentence for Jett, who actually inflicted the mortal wound upon Santos.

“Considering Nunez’s limited role in the killing and his clean prior criminal record, I believe his sentence is disproportionate in comparison to Jett’s. The lower terms for voluntary manslaughter (three years) and assault with a deadly weapon (two years each) would be more appropriate in light of these differences,” Schwarzenegger wrote.

UPDATE @ 5:50 P.M. MONDAY: Lots more on this today here.

Posted on Sunday, January 2nd, 2011
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Assembly, Fabian Nunez, State Prisons | 12 Comments »

U.S. Supreme Court hears Calif. prison case

The U.S. Supreme Court appeared ready today to endorse a lower court’s order calling on California to move thousands of inmates out of its overcrowded prisons so that those who remain get adequate health care, the Associated Press reports (via the Washington Post).

The justices heard an extended argument in a case over long-standing violations of constitutional rights in a state prison system that last year averaged nearly a death a week that might have been prevented or delayed with better medical care.

A decision in Plata v. Schwarzenegger (SCOTUS docket here, historical documents here)will come by next summer, but stakeholders are weighing in today.

From David Fathi, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project:

“Gov. Schwarzenegger has acknowledged that prison overcrowding increases recidivism while creating ‘conditions of extreme peril’ that threaten the health and safety of staff and prisoners alike. Our public safety is jeopardized by overcrowded prisons, in which high-risk prisoners don’t rehabilitate and low-risk prisoners learn new criminal behavior. It is far past time to abandon failed ‘get-tough’ ideologies and invest in policies that are rooted in evidence, fiscal prudence and common sense.”

From Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance in Southern California:

“One of the primary reasons that the state’s prisons are dangerously overcrowded is that California continues to lock up thousands of people each year for low-level drug possession. There is no basis in evidence or principle to expose people to this dangerous environment simply for the possession of a small amount of illicit substances. California must follow the lead of other states like Texas and New York and stop sending people to state prison for drug possession, which can be handled as a health issue safely, effectively and affordably in the community.

“The state currently spends $500 million a year to incarcerate 10,000 people for nothing more than personal drug possession. That does not include the unknown number of parolees who have been returned to prison for a few months based on the results of a drug test. This is a terrible waste of scarce resources. Treatment in the community is effective and affordable. Unfortunately, California this year eliminated funding for community-based treatment for drug possession arrestees.

“People who use drugs do not belong in the state’s cruel and costly prisons simply for that personal use. We urge California to take the logical step of ending incarceration as a response to drug possession, while expanding opportunities for drug treatment in the community.”

Posted on Tuesday, November 30th, 2010
Under: State Prisons | 1 Comment »

Torrico to chair new prison-reform committee

Hot on the heels of smack-talking a campaign rival’s self-funding, Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, D-Newark, today announced a new role in which he could either boost or undermine his campaign for state Attorney General: He’ll chair the new Assembly Select Committee on Prison and Rehabilitation Reform.

In a state now renowned for dysfunctional government, the prison and rehabilitation system takes the cake: rampant overcrowding, copious contraband, heavy gang influence, runaway recidivism, a health-care system so bad it’s been placed in federal receivership, etc.

“We can no longer risk ignoring California’s prison crisis. For the first time in the state’s history, California spent more money on prisons than higher education last fiscal year. California needs to stop ignoring and start reforming our prison system,” Torrico said in his news release. “This Governor will give his State of the State address tomorrow. But the time has come to state the obvious – we can’t fix what’s wrong with California until we fix our broken and costly prison system.”

If Torrico’s committee can successfully start mitigating one or more of these problems, it’s an instant, firm campaign platform plank; if not, inaction or failure could provide fodder for his campaign rivals’ attacks. Of course, June’s Democratic primary is just five months away, so perhaps there’s enough time for him to tout his role as chairman and not enough time for anyone to seriously expect him to accomplish much…

Posted on Tuesday, January 5th, 2010
Under: 2010 election, Alberto Torrico, Assembly, Attorney General, State Prisons | 9 Comments »

Steinberg seeks a one-two punch on furloughs

State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is trying to land a one-two punch on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s three-day-a-month furloughs of state employees.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Ken Jacobs, chairman of the University of California Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, will hold a news conference tomorrow at the State Capitol to release a study on “The High Cost of Furloughs,” which shows the governor’s three-day-a-month furlough program saves less than anticipated, offset by less revenue and higher costs in future years, while dragging down the Sacramento region’s already struggling economy.

Earlier today, Steinberg rolled out a different study from the nonpartisan state Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes which found furlough savings aren’t being realized for at least a third of the roughly 100,000 state employees paid from the general fund with round-the-clock jobs; the furlough policy is just pushing labor costs to future years while adding more costs.

“This report is further confirmation that the administration’s furlough program was poorly thought out and will not deliver long-term savings for the general fund,” Steinberg said of this study. “In round-the-clock operations like prisons and state developmental centers, the furlough program is not reducing hours over the long-term, it is simply deferring paychecks.”

Furloughs in Round-the-Clock Operations: Savings are Illusory,” analyzed payroll data from the State Controller’s Office and interviews with top prison, developmental services and mental health officials. Among the findings Steinberg is touting:

    In round-the-clock institutions, employees in positions that must be filled day and night generally aren’t taking off three days per month; while absorbing the 14 percent reduction in pay, they’re working the “furlough” days and banking time to be taken off later on. In the prisons, which employ 70 percent of all state workers paid by the general fund, officials say the long-term cost of furloughs is greater than the savings; corrections officials say they were told by the administration that short-term payroll savings are more important than future liabilities. Correctional workers banked 1.5 million furlough hours between February and August this year; most are correctional officers, and at $34.91 an hour, that’s a future liability of at least $52 million.
    When correctional officers do take time off, they generally use furlough days instead of vacation days, so from February through August, the number of unused vacation days accrued by correctional officers jumped 500 percent – a potential boondoggle for future prison staffing, and costlier because many workers will be at a higher pay rate when they finally do use their vacation time.
    Furloughs fail to save the $108 million projected by the administration in the prison healthcare system, according to the court-appointed receivership now that system; the costs of paying overtime and hiring private workers to fill in for furloughed workers will exceed any savings. In fact, the court-appointed receiver says furloughs are projected to increase costs within the prison health care system by $37 million to $47 million this year.
    Similar bankings of furlough and vacation time are happening in California’s dozen mental hospitals and developmental centers, creating the same kinds of future liabilities.

Posted on Wednesday, October 14th, 2009
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, California State Senate, Darrell Steinberg, General, state budget, State Prisons | 16 Comments »

More from Schwarzenegger’s SF speech

The governor visited San Francisco today mainly to stump for the May special election budget-reform agenda, but lots of other topics came up during a question-and-answer period as well.

For example, he said he’s “absolutely” in favor of extending Legislative term limits; former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez had the right idea with last year’s Proposition 93, but would’ve fared better with voters if he’d packaged term limits with redistricting reform to prove he wasn’t “acting out of selfish reasons.” Nunez, along with then-state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, were among lawmakers who would’ve been “grandfathered” into longer tenures had the measure passed.

Lawmakers need two or three years just to learn the ropes and get up to speed, Schwarzenegger said today; under current rules, that’s half the time someone can spend in the Assembly. “I think it’s a disservice to the California people,” he said.

Lots more, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Thursday, March 12th, 2009
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, economy, education, Fabian Nunez, Global warming, May 2009 special election, State Prisons | No Comments »

State prison advisor gets Stanford Law post

A well-known criminologist who has advised Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on overhauling California’s prison system has been appointed to the Stanford Law School faculty as a professor.

Joan Petersilia most recently has been a Professor of Criminology, Law and Society in the School of Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine, where she directed the Center for Evidence-Based Corrections.

The author of eight books on corrections policy, Petersilia has brought her research on parole reform, prisoner reintegration and sentencing policy to bear on California’s prisons as a special advisor to the governor since 2003. She helped reorganize juvenile and adult corrections, create a new Office of Research and an Office of Policy and Planning, and work with the California Legislature to implement prison and parole reform.

Petersilia will also serve as faculty co-director for the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, helping the center to assess policies on crime control, sentencing, and corrections, and to develop nonpartisan analyses and recommendations to help public officials, the legal community and the public understand state and national criminal justice policy.

Before Irvine, Petersilia directed the Criminal Justice Program at RAND Corp., a leading social science think tank, and served as president of the American Society of Criminology. She’s also the former director of the National Research Council’s study on Crime Victims with Disabilities; the former director of the California Policy Research Center’s study on Criminal Offenders with Developmental Disabilities; and served as a visiting professor at Stanford Law from 2005 to 2006. She holds a doctorate in Criminology, Law & Society from UC-Irvine; a Master’s degree in sociology from Ohio State University and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Loyola University of Los Angeles.

Posted on Wednesday, March 4th, 2009
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, State Prisons | No Comments »

Political Haiku, Vol. 5

Has it really been three months since last I did this? Shame on me.

McCain discusses
ACORN, Ayers as Dow drops;
Rome burns, he fiddles.

Pay for inmate health,
Judge now tells California.
Years late, still we balk.

A fine governor
Jerry Brown could make again,
Schwarzenegger says.

No stance before vote,
Andal blasts McNerney’s call.
A bailout “gotcha?”

Posted on Friday, October 10th, 2008
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dean Andal, Elections, General, haiku, Jerry Brown, Jerry McNerney, John McCain, State Prisons | No Comments »