California has tremendous potential to save money by revamping its prison system, says a college professor in a Los Angeles Times column.
“We need the political will to pursue proven measures and to counter fear-based rhetoric,” wrote Barry Krisberg, research and policy director at UC Berkeley’s law school.
With budget woes a huge concern for many Californians, Krisberg says there are several policy choices that would ease spending without jeopardizing public safety.
- releasing low-risk inmates
- allowing low-level offenders to do their sentences in local jails instead of state prison
- revising the way low-level offenders are assessed so that they would qualify for county jail time instead of state prison
- give low-risk offenders with dependent children the opportunity to serve their sentence in a halfway house
- commuting “holds” on illegal immigrants
- modest reform of the three-strikes law
- investment in evidence-based rehabilitation programs
California’s policy makers have already begun to have some success in reforming its prison system, says Krisberg. The state has reduced the prison population by 20,000 so far through prison realignment, “without a detectable decrease in public safety.”
“Legislative leaders have pledged to examine all options to avert further crippling reductions in state funding for higher education, the court system and social support for poor and vulnerable families. They should be looking at the state criminal justice system; there are savings that could help us avoid harsher cuts,” Krisberg wrote.
“Plans for prison expansion have been halted, and plans for prison closures have begun. The governor has proposed ending the practice of sending California prisoners to private prisons in other states, and he has explored new rules to reduce corrections department staffing,” he added.