CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Criminal Justice Reform Battle in California: Cynical Politicians and Powerful Interests Attacking the Public Good

Here is picture that sums up much that is wrong with American politics. Five governors of California, Democrats and Republicans, joining forces to oppose something that is indisputably in the public interest.

This is an image that could be repeated, with different faces, in region after region of our country, involving issue after issue. Public officials standing against the public good, with the disastrous results on display from Detroit to Wall Street. All suffering from the same destructive force: the power of entrenched special interests to cloud the vision of our leaders, causing them to thwart good sense, good legislation, and the will of the people.

In today's version, we have Jerry Brown, Pete Wilson, Gray Davis, George Deukmejian, and Arnold Schwarzenegger coming together to oppose Prop 5, a common sense ballot initiative that seeks to effectively and intelligently tackle the chronic problems facing California's deeply flawed criminal justice system.

California's prisons are a budget-busting debacle. There are currently more than 170,000 inmates crammed into prisons designed to hold 100,000 people. Around 70,000 of these prisoners are nonviolent offenders, with over half of them incarcerated for a drug offense.

A large part of the problem is a parole system the New York Times recently called "perhaps the most counterproductive and ill-conceived" in the U.S.. California's recidivism rate is 70 percent -- twice the national average. This stems in no small measure from the state's insistence on treating paroled murderers the same way as paroled nonviolent drug offenders. They all spend 3-5 years on parole. This overburdens parole officers, who end up spending very little time with any of their charges -- violent or nonviolent (According to the Times, 80 percent of California parolees have fewer than two 15-minute meetings with their parole officer per month.) Wouldn't it make more sense to keep a closer watch on rapists and killers than on nonviolent drug offenders? [Mark Godsey]

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