A series of criminal justice reforms, if adopted, would allow California to return 30,000 inmates to their communities.
Each year, California spends a combined $20 billion in state prisons and county jails, according to Safe And Sound: Strategies To Save A Billion In Prison Costs And Build New Safety Solutions, a report by Californians for Safety and Justice (CSJ).
“That’s a 500 percent increase in prison spending since 1981 … California spends as much today on prisons as every state in the United States combined spent on prisons in 1981,” reported CSJ.
CSJ makes three key recommendations to reduce mass incarceration:
Give power back to the courts by ending mandatory minimum sentences.
Parole more low-risk inmates. While the CDCR assesses 48 percent of California prisoners as low risk, many of these cannot benefit from existing reforms as their crime has been categorized as “violent.”
Let more inmates earn good-time credits for participating in rehabilitation programs.
“If state leaders implement the…reforms outlined in this report, the state could safely … reduce the number of people in state prison by about 30,000,” claims CSJ.
“64% of California’s jail population is awaiting trial or sentencing as of December 2016.” Most remain in pretrial custody because they cannot afford bail. Jail Profile Survey, http://www.bscc.ca.gov/
Implementing these recommendations, “could allow the state to close five prisons and save the state at least $1.5 billion annually,” according to CSJ.
CSJ recommends California use the savings to scale up victim trauma recovery, drug rehabilitation, mental health, job training and homeless support to break the cycle of crime. CSJ calls the strategy, Shared Safety Infrastructure.
“Tennessee is 17.1 percent Black, but Blacks make up 69 percent of all drug-free school zone offenders…” REASON Magazine, January 2018
“The goal has to be rehabilitation. Redemption has to be real,” said Lenore Anderson, executive director of CSJ.
The report shows that even crime survivors support prison reform:
By a 2 to 1 margin, for renewed focus on supervised probation and rehabilitation over sending people to jails or prisons.
By a 7 to 1 margin, survivors want California to invest in health and drug treatment over jails and prisons.
A majority think prisons make the problem worse by making better criminals instead of better citizens.
These numbers came from a first-of-its-kind survey of California crime victims conducted by CSJ.
“The long overdue task of replacing ineffective over-incarceration with smart justice in the nation’s most populous state is finally underway,” the report said, referring to voter-approved prison reform measures begun in 2012 that released thousands of inmates.