REALIGNMENT TRUTHS AND MISINFORMATION—A YEAR LATER
In a sharply-worded essay, LA Times editorial-writer Robert Greene explains why realignment doesn’t let anyone out early despite common misstatements by law enforcement unions and even some journalists. Greene expresses righteous indignation at the misinformation still being spread by the CA GOP and others a year after the realignment bill AB109 was signed. Here’s a clip:
“No Happy Anniversary for the Democrat Early Release Program,” reads a statement from the California state Senate Republican Caucus. I can understand why they’d be unhappy at the early release of Democrats, but I don’t think that’s what they mean. They’re referring instead to criminal justice realignment under last year’s AB 109. It took effect Oct. 1, 2011.
The narrative is familiar to anyone on the email list of police unions or California Republicans and it goes like this: Democrats adopted realignment, Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law, inmates got out of prison early, and many of these people who should still be behind bars committed new crimes, including rape, attempted murder, kidnapping and robbery.
Ten of the Senate’s 13 Republicans offer their own comments as part of their caucus’ official statement. Former GOP leader Bob Dutton, of Rancho Cucamonga, refers to “letting dangerous criminals out of prison early.” Ted Gaines of Rocklin, near Sacramento, says realignment “essentially means the early release of some very dangerous individuals.” Tony Strickland of Thousand Oaks talks about “hundreds of offenders released early.” Mimi Walters of Irvine mentions “early release of many dangerous criminals.”
There are links to news stories that detail crimes allegedly committed by felons who got out of prison early because of realignment.
It sure sounds like they’re saying realignment lets felons out of prison early, right? How can Dutton’s statement, for example, be interpreted as saying anything else? How can the caucus’ collective statement about “the Democrats’ early-release program for prison inmates” mean anything else?
The problem with this narrative is pretty basic. Under AB 109 realignment, no one is released from prison any earlier than he or she would have been otherwise.
Before realignment, a felon was sentenced to prison for, say, 10 years, and after five – 50% of time served – was released on parole. The 50% is a result of credit for good behavior and for work, and has been part of California law for years. Realignment hasn’t changed that.
It should be pretty easy to be able to document whether new felons are being released early from local jails, and if so whether they are committing new crimes. But police groups, the state GOP and others who criticize realignment and have a knack for citing anecdotes never quite seem to be able to find those numbers. At least a third of the state’s new so-called non-non-nons have been sentenced in Los Angeles County Superior Court and have gone to Los Angeles County jail. According to the Sheriff’s Department, not one such person has been released from jail early. The department also reports that it has not changed its early release criteria. Yes, the sheriff has long released inmates early in order to manage crowding and keep beds available, but it has not sped up releases to make room for the newly convicted felons.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I love my pal Robert Greene’s writing anyway, but it is particularly satisfying to see him yank apart the mendacious, fact-phobic pronouncements that are routinely advanced by sloppy reporters, with the help of a slew of public officials and law enforcement spokespersons who are seemingly convinced that it is to their advantage to prove realignment a ghastly, public safety-endangering failure—factual reality be damned. It has driven me mad, mad, I tell you!
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FALL OF THE CA PUBLIC COLLEGE
In Tuesday’s Huffington Post, Mother Jones’ staff writer Andy Kroll maps out the history of California’s higher education from a time (not so long ago) when it was affordable and available and the best of its kind in the nation. Then he fast-forwards its current condition where budget cuts and tax breaks have hacked and chopped it into a horribly diminished version of its former self that also happens to be a lot more expensive. Kroll also explains the correlation between the missing CA education funding and the state’s affinity for over-incarceration.
The Huffington Post’s Andy Kroll has the story. Here’s how it opens:
It was the greatest education system the world had ever seen. They built it into the eucalyptus-dotted Berkeley hills and under the bright lights of Los Angeles, down in the valley in Fresno and in the shadows of the San Bernardino Mountains. Hundreds of college campuses, large and small, two-year and four-year, stretching from California’s emerald forests in the north to the heat-scorched Inland Empire in the south. Each had its own DNA, but common to all was this: they promised a “public” education, accessible and affordable, to those with means and those without, a door with a welcome mat into the ivory tower, an invitation to a better life.
Then California bled that system dry. Over three decades, voters starved their state — and so their colleges and universities — of cash. Politicians siphoned away what money remained and spent it more on imprisoning people, not educating them. College administrators grappled with shriveling state support by jacking up tuitions, tacking on new fees, and so asking more each year from increasingly pinched students and families. Today, many of those students stagger under a heap of debt as they linger on waiting lists to get into the over-subscribed classes they need to graduate.
California’s public higher education system is, in other words, dying a slow death. The promise of a cheap, quality education is slipping away for the working and middle classes, for immigrants, for the very people whom the University of California’s creators held in mind when they began their grand experiment 144 years ago. And don’t think the slow rot of public education is unique to California: that state’s woes are the nation’s.
KIDS EXIT JUVIE SYSTEM WITH WORSE PSYCHIATRIC PROBLEMS THAN WHEN THEY ENTERED
A high percentage of kids who have a run-in with the juvenile justice system come into lock up with emotional troubles that are likely transitory but tend to leave with problems that are much more intractable. Specifically the study from Northwestern University researchers says that, among kids who have been locked up in a juvenile detention facility, almost 50% of males and 30% of females had at least one psychiatric disorder following incarceration.
Red Orbit’s Connie Ho has the story. Here’s a clip:
“For some youth, detention may coincide with a period of crisis that subsequently abates. Many youth, however, continue to struggle: five years after detention, when participants were ages 14 to 24 years, nearly half of males and nearly 30 percent of females had one or more psychiatric disorders with associated impairment.”
The scientists looked at evidence gleaned from the Northwestern Juvenile Project, a longitudinal study consisting of 1,829 youths between the ages of 10 and 18 who were based in a Chicago detention center. They believe that the study is the first longitudinal study to measure psychiatric disorders in young people following detention.
“Our study addresses a critical hole in the research,” remarked the study’s lead author Linda A. Teplin, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a statement.
Among the 657 females and 1,172 males, the abuse of substances like alcohol and drugs was the most common and long-lasting form of psychiatric disorder.
“These findings demonstrate the need for special programs – especially for substance use disorders – not only while these kids are in corrections but also when they return to the community,” noted Teplin in a statement.
At the start of the study, the male participants had an approximately one-third higher chance of displaying signs of substance abuse compared to females. At the five-year mark, however, males were at a 2.5 times higher risk of developing the disorder compared to their female counterparts.
“People think these kids are locked up forever, but the average stay is only two weeks,” continued Teplin in the statement. “Obviously, it’s better to provide community services than to build correctional facilities. Otherwise, the lack of services perpetuates the revolving door between the community and corrections.”
You can access the abstract here, but it appears as if the full report can only be read with a subscription to the Archives of General Psychiatry journal.
MOST CA THIRD-STRIKERS ARE ADDICTS, BUT POSE NO HIGHER THREAT THAN OTHER INMATES
And while we’re on the topic of the relationship between incarceration and emotional/psychological problems, while people incarcerated under the three-strikes law are twice as likely to have substance abuse issues, they are no more likely to engage in dangerous “criminal-thinking” than regular inmates, according to research by the California Watch and the SF Chron.
California Watch’s Marisa Lagos and Ryan Gabrielson have the story. Here’s a clip:
The psychological, substance abuse and education profiles of thousands of inmates – obtained and analyzed by California Watch and the San Francisco Chronicle – reveal that the state imposes especially lengthy sentences on felons with substance abuse problems who have not necessarily committed violent offenses.
But according to their profiles, these inmates would pose no more a threat to public safety than a non-three-strikes inmate.
The never-before-released data could play an important role for critics and supporters of California’s three strike’s law, amid a dramatic year for criminal justice reform. Thousands of inmates are being transferred to county jails under a realignment plan championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, and voters are being asked to alter the state’s three strikes initiative with a ballot measure in November.
The act of judging a person’s criminal proclivity is steeped in a long and controversial history of guesswork and junk science. But modern social scientists and criminologists say California’s prisoner surveys ranking “criminal thinking” – which have been verified through rigorous studies of recidivism rates – are reliable tools to gauge risk factors and psychological makeups.
The data shows that about one-third of all prisoners – including second- and third-strikers – need cognitive therapy to deal with their criminal tendencies, the impulse that drives them to break the law. But the need for substance abuse rehabilitation is overwhelming among inmates serving two- or three-strike sentences.