PolitiCal

On politics in the Golden State

Category: Prisons

County probation departments lose incentive funds

The success of California's prison realignment plan is causing an unintended casualty: smaller rewards for counties that figure out how to cut recidivism.

Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget includes only $35 million in what are called community corrections performance grants, down from $138 million this year. The grants are given to county probation departments that reduce the number of felons they send back to state prison for violating probation or committing a new crime.

The 2009 program was designed to give counties a share of the money the state saves when it doesn't have to lock someone up.

However, under AB109, there are fewer felons returning to state prison. Low-level offenders and parole violators are now responsibility of counties. The shift is the primary driver behind large drops in California's prison population, and continued crowding in some county jails.

The Administrative Office of the Courts calculated that probation departments kept 9,500 felons out of prison this year, including 3,890 in Los Angeles. For that, Los Angeles received nearly $53 million in performance grants.

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Skelton: Brown correct to target federal control of prisons

 --Paige St. John in Sacramento

 

 

Brown takes prison message on the road

Gov. Jerry Brown took his campaign against federal oversight of prisons on the road Tuesday, telling reporters in Los Angeles that further reductions in incarceration would risk public safety.

“We already have reduced our prisons 43,000.” Brown said. “There’s no doubt that if you let people out of prison you increase the potential of crime.”

The governor's remarks come on the heels of court motions filed late Monday to drop population caps intended to improve medical care.

“Most people going to prisons get the best healthcare they’ll ever get,” Brown said, repeating much the same message he delivered earlier in the day to a Sacramento news conference.

"We are spending, not the $300 million we spent four or five years ago but, $2 billion, and that money is coming out of our schools, out of our child care and out of our scholarships for college. Enough already.”

It is up to a panel of three 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judges to determine whether or not California prisons meet their constitutional requirements for providing quality medical care. If, however, the judges do not accept Brown’s case that prisons are no longer overcrowded, he said he will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.  

In answer to other questions, Brown said he has completed treatment for prostate cancer. "I’m ready to go," he said. "You’re going to have me around to kick for a long time.”  

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-- Wesley Lowery in Los Angeles

Jerry Brown calls on feds to relinquish hold on state prisons

Gov. Jerry Brown said the job of reducing the state’s prison population and improving its healthcare system “is now complete” and asked a federal court to relinquish control of the state’s prisons.

“The prison emergency is over in California,” Brown said. “It is now time to return the control of our prison system to California.”

The governor said the courts are now just “nitpicking” over small problems in the state’s correctional facilities.

Brown said he was offering, under protest, a plan to release some prisoners early in order to comply with a court order, but said such a plan was unnecessary.

Brown’s comments came at a Capitol press conference just hours after his administration filed documents with a federal court asking judges to lift their requirement that the state reduce its prison population.

“The overcrowding and health care conditions cited by this court to support its population reduction order are now a distant memory,” the documents filed by the Brown administration said.

“California’s vastly improved prison health care system now provides inmates with superior care that far exceeds the minimum requirements of the Constitution.”

Brown’s announcement comes just two days before he is scheduled to unveil his state spending plan for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which begins on July 1. In 2011, Brown pushed through a massive restructuring of the state’s incarceration system, aimed at housing more criminals in local jails to alleviate overcrowding in state prisons.

Brown will hold another press conference Tuesday afternoon in Los Angeles to discuss his prison plans.

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-- Anthony York in Sacramento

Lawmakers seek prison time for GPS violators

Lawmakers alarmed at an increase in the number of sex offenders violating parole have vowed legislation to make tampering with their electronic tracking devices a crime that sends them back to prison.

Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) on Monday filed what is known as a “spot” bill, intended to be filled later with language that makes it a felony to cut off a GPS-aided ankle bracelet. Lieu contends an increasing number of parolees are cutting off their GPS monitoring devices “because they’re convinced little will happen to them.”

Under California’s prison realignment program, parole violators serve their time in county jails instead of prisons. If those jails are full, they are likely to be among the first to be released early.

Lieu said state corrections officials reported 173 parole violators cut off their bracelets from October 2010 to September 2011. With realignment in October 2011, the 12-month rate jumped to nearly 300 violations.

An initial policy hearing on the bill, SB 57, has not yet been set. Sen. Michael Rubio (D-Bakersfield) is a co-sponsor. 

A second bill, AB 2 filed in December by Assemblyman  Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga), would create new prison terms for paroled sex offenders who fail to register with local law enforcement.

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Brown fails to produce prison plan

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--Paige St. John in Sacramento

Brown fails to produce prison plan, seeks end of court control

Gov. Jerry Brown contends California no longer needs to reduce overcrowding in the state's prisons.

Federal judges had given the state until midnight Monday to file plans showing how California would meet federal caps on prison populations. Instead, in a motion filed late in the day, the governor's lawyers asked the judges to lift those caps.

"The overcrowding and healthcare conditions cited by this court to support its population reduction order are now a distant memory," the state’s lawyers contend.

The governor takes his case on the road Tuesday, with scheduled press conferences in Sacramento and Los Angeles.

Brown's own bid to reduce prison crowding centered on making low-level offenders the responsibility of counties. It has fallen short of the numbers needed, and corrections officials report little change in the state's prison population since September. Nevertheless, the governor insists medical care has improved to levels the court should deem acceptable.

Three federal judges overseeing class action lawsuits over inmate medical, dental and mental health care have threatened since 2007 to require California to release inmates from the state's dangerously overcrowded prisons. The state contends that to remove additional prisoners would put public safety at risk, and that it is up to the Legislature to take other steps such as changing the sentencing laws.

Meanwhile, state prison reports show that since November, California has been increasing the number of inmates shipped out of state. Brown last year said he intended to end the state's contracts with private prison operator Corrections Corp. of America as a way to save money.

According to a July research brief for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, the state currently spends more than $426 million a year to buy space at prisons operated by the Tennessee-based company. (The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation contends the spending is much lower: $316 million.) The number of out-of-state inmates has run from a high of 10,000 in 2010 to a low of 8,500 last October. State prison population reports show it rose to more than 8,900 in late December.

Going over 9,038 would require modification of California’s contract with CCA.

“There’s always an availability of capacity,” said CCA spokesman Steve Owen.

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-- Paige St. John in Sacramento

Updated 4 p.m. Jan. 8, to attribute source of state spending on out-of-state contracts. The amount is disputed by the state.

Time runs out for Brown's new prison crowding plan

Monday is the deadline for Gov. Jerry Brown to let federal courts know what more he intends to do about crowding in California's prisons.

Brown’s novel plan, rolled out in 2011, was to improve prison conditions by making low-level felons the responsibility of counties. The gambit has fallen short on two key fronts.

It failed to meet court-ordered caps on prison crowding. Though the inmate population has dropped by 50,000 since 2007, California still has 9,000 prisoners too many. The excess is expected to swell to 12,000 by December 2013 if Brown brings home about 10,000 inmates shipped out of state to for-profit prisons.

It also failed to deliver its promise to taxpayers. Prison spending this year is expected to be $8.6 billion. Although that is a $394-million drop from the year before, Brown’s realignment plan promised to shrink the state corrections bill to $7.8 billion. Corrections is the third-largest part of California’s budget, behind public schools and healthcare for the poor and elderly.

A panel of three federal judges presiding over class-action lawsuits dealing with inmate health, medical and dental care gave the governor three months to “outline” how he will achieve the required reductions, and when.  The order also specifically asks the state to identify, by Monday, which laws would have to be waived, either by the governor or by the court, to put any new prison plans into place.

Civil rights advocates hope for something more than what the state has said repeatedly in past situations to the court: that short of an order or change in law, there is nothing more the governor can do.

"I’d think that an expansion of earned time credits might be at least a component of that plan," said Will Matthews, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. Giving inmates ways to shorten their sentences, Matthews said, "would be good in that it’d incentivize more prisoners to take advantage of rehabilitation, education and skills-training programs." 

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California starts emptying solitary confinement cells

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--Paige St. John in Sacramento

 

California starts emptying solitary confinement cells

158284_Cell from corridor_ Pelican Bay SHU

Even as inmate leaders held in isolation within California's toughest cell blocks threaten renewed hunger strikes, the state has begun reviewing and moving segregated prisoners into general housing.

As of this week, corrections spokesman Bill Sessa said, 88 inmates had been reviewed under standards adopted in October. Fifty-one of those prisoners were told they will be moved immediately to the general population, where they will be allowed to exercise in outdoor yards, mingle with other prisoners, and enjoy privileges denied them for years while in solitary confinement. Another 25 of those inmates have been moved into the state's new four-year "step down" program that allows their reentry to the general population only after an extended process.

Sessa said he could not identify the 12 inmates who will remain in segregation, nor where they are being held. California's core high-security segregation cellbocks are at Pelican Bay State Prison near the Oregon border. Inmates also can still leave segregation by the old way -- "debriefing," the term for providing critical evidence against other prisoners involved in gangs. 

The state contends it uses the segregation cells to isolate its most dangerous inmates -- those who have committed violent offenses in prison or are identified as leaders or active members of prison gangs, now called "security threat groups."

Inmates within the spartan units argue they are held indefinitely without recourse to challenge what they contend are inhumane conditions. The Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a federal lawsuit against the state in their behalf. 

In recent open letters sent to inmate advocacy organizations, several inmates held in Pelican Bay's segregation units contend the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has failed to follow through with promises made to end a series of prison hunger strikes last year. They now threaten renewed protests.

The demands ranged from improved food and greater visitation rights to an outright end to the use of indefinite isolation. More than 70 of the 1,200-plus inmates held in segregation at Pelican Bay have been there for more than 20 years.

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-- Paige St. John in Sacramento

Image: The solitary confinement cell of an inmate at Pelican Bay State Prison's security housing unit. Photograph provided to Amnesty International. 

 

 

 

Some county judges change sentencing patterns

California's new felon imprisonment law, which requires low-level offenders to serve their time in county jail rather than state prison, is beginning to reshape how some county judges hand down those sentences.

A study by the Chief Probation Officers of California finds an increasing number of judges using split sentences, requiring offenders to spend part of their time in jail and the other part in a community program or under probation. Without a split sentence, the entire term is spent in jail and when offenders are released, there is no followup.

From the time the new prison law took effect in October 2011 to June 2012, the probation officers group reports, 23% of all local prison sentences were split. That means an increase in the responsibilities of county probation offices, but a lighter load on jails.

However, the organization says there is an inconsistent use of the sentencing tool among the state's 58 counties. Judges in 18 counties deliver split sentences to more than half their felons, including Contra Costa and San Joaquin. On the other hand, only 5% of Los Angeles County felons, for example, are given split sentences. 

Probation departments also are responsible for providing post-release supervision of low-level offenders that remain in California's prisons. The probation officers group says 29,000 such former state prisoners now report to county probation.

The number of felons now under county jurisdiction is now much closer to what the state told counties to expect when realignment was enacted in 2011. The state total was 106% of the predicted number in June, down from 140% of the prediction in October 2011. 

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Jeffrey Beard sworn in as prisons chief

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-- By Paige St. John in Sacramento

Jeffrey Beard sworn in as California's corrections secretary

Beard swearing in
Jeffrey Beard, the former prisons chief of Pennsylvania, was sworn in Thursday morning as Gov. Jerry Brown's new corrections secretary.

A spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confirmed that Beard took his oath of office from a member of the governor's staff at agency headquarters in Sacramento. His appointment still requires confirmation by the California Senate.

Beard has little more than a week to sign off on whatever plans California proposes to further reduce prison crowding. The state has a Jan. 7 deadline to report those plans to a panel of three federal court judges overseeing class action lawsuits for inadequate prison medical, mental and dental health care.

Beard is taking the helm at an agency that has managed some reductions in the prison population, is in the midst of laying off parole agents and health workers, and yet is still over budget in its expenditures. The legislative analyst's office projects an ongoing prison budget of $8.3 billion. Brown's budget had promised to cut prison spending to $7.8 billion by shifting low-level felons to counties. Overall, the state faces an expected $1.9 billion deficit that will have to be filled in June.

Beard, 65, retired as Pennsylvania prisons chief in 2010 and has worked since then as a private consultant, including advising California on prison mental health issues.

The new corrections secretary, through his public relations office, has refused media interview requests. The agency's press office states he will be "unavailable" until at least late January. Likewise, his swearing-in ceremony Thursday was conducted in private.

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--Paige St. John in Sacramento

Photo: Jeffrey Beard is sworn in as corrections secretary Thursday by Lisa McVay, appointments administrator for Gov. Jerry Brown. Credit: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Jerry Brown grants clemency to 79 criminals

Brown-20120904-001

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday conveyed his current pardons, restoring civil rights to 79 felons, many of them convicted of minor drug crimes decades ago.

Typical of the cases is that of Jorge Baeza, a Los Angeles resident convicted of possession and sale of marijuana in 1998, and who has been on the state pardon waiting list since 2003.

A statement from Brown's office called the executive pardons "earned," saying: "Obtaining a pardon is a distinct achievement based upon proof of a productive and law-abiding life following conviction."

The governor's Christmas Eve list consists mostly of people who convinced local Superior Courts to award them a certificate of rehabilitation, indicating they had been in recovery for at least 10 years.

Brown's office would not immediately provide access to the pardon applications, recommendations of prosecutors and victims' statements, all now allowed under a 2011 state law. He is required under that law to provide a fuller report to the Legislature when it begins regular session.

Pardons, reprieves and commutations are allowed by the California Constitution. They don't seal criminal records but restore civil rights, allowing felons to vote, serve on a jury or work in prohibited jobs, such as a parole or probation officer. Those not convicted of a crime involving a dangerous weapon regain the right to own a firearm.

Brown is among California's most pardonable modern governors. In his first tenure in office, from 1975 to 1983, he granted clemency to 403 criminals. The 21 executive pardons he delivered in 2011 surpassed the 16 pardons and 10 commuted sentences of Arnold Schwarzenegger's seven years in office. Gray Davis granted none. Ronald Reagan delivered 575 pardons.

Brown in 2011 refused parole for 71 first- and second-degree murderers whose release had been recommended by the state parole board.

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-- Paige St. John in Sacramento

--Updated at 2:23 p.m. to reflect that Brown's office notes this is not an "annual" list . There are seven days remaining in the year during which he could issue more pardons.

Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown has restored civil rights to 79 felons, allowing them privileges including voting and serving on a jury. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

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