Richmond hosts prison re-entry forum
on June 27, 2011
California’s prison population must by law get smaller, and that means more ex-convicts in local communities.
As a new state law, AB 109, designed to reduce California’s prison population takes effect, the burden of jailing and supervising nonviolent offenders will be shifted from state corrections to the local and county level. Elected officials joined with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and Contra Costa County officials in Richmond’s city council chambers on Friday to explain the process and assuage concerns.
This is preparing our community to take ownership of our own people,” said Phil Kader, Contra Costa County’s chief probation officer. Kader told the audience of Richmond resident and policymakers that implementation of Assembly Bill 109 will result in about 450 additional people in local custody or supervision this year. “It’s not like they’re opening up the gates,” Kader said.
When AB 109 takes effect—prospectively on July 1 it will begin a process that lawmakers hope will shift tens of thousands of inmates from state prisons to local facilities and home supervision. The law was prompted by a combination of exploding corrections costs, the state’s severe budget crisis and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in May that forced the state to reduce prison overcrowding, which the court found violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The law’s main strategy is to shift responsibility for low-level offenders and parole supervision from the state to the counties. About 144,000 inmates are currently housed in 33 state prisons, making California the largest state prison system in the nation.
Friday’s panel included State Senators Loni Hancock and Mark DeSaulnier County Supervisor John Gioia and officials from CDCR and Contra Costa County. Both state senators were blunt in their criticisms of the state prison system. Hancock called the system an “expensive failure,” but expressed optimism about the new law. DeSaulnier added that CDCR policies have “not been efficient by any measure.”
CDCR external affairs chief Erin Sasse led the audience through a presentation delving into the details of AB 109, which could represent the most sweeping reform of corrections in California in a generation. Among the key changes contained in the law will be to send parole violators to county jails, not state prisons, Sasse said, which will shave prison costs and populations. Also, under the new law state prisons can reduce future commitments thanks to the state revising the definition of felony crimes to include non-violent, non-sexual offenses that are punishable by more than one year in county jail.
Sasse said the changes should reduce the number of inmates in California prisons by 33,500 over the next two years, and by 10,000 by November 24 of this year, per mandates imposed by the Supreme Court’s decision.
But she stressed that no state prison inmates will be transferred to county jails and that inmates will serve out their sentences. “We are not doing any early release,” Sasse said.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office has praised the plan, saying that the components are consistent with past proposals and should lead to “improved service delivery and program accountability.” The LAO has, however, cautioned that the short time frame and continued budget imbalances could be a challenge for implementation.
Earlier this month, Secretary of the California Department of Corrections Matthew Cate said the legislature must act quickly to fund AB 109 to safely meet the Supreme Court’s prisoner reduction deadlines.
At the county level, the concerns are similar. “The key issue for us at the county level is to make sure we have enough resources to implement this,” Gioia said.
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