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COMMON SENSE CORRECTIONS REFORMS CAN ALLOW CALIFORNIA TO AVOID EARLY RELEASE

Matthew Cate, Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

July 23, 2009

[Publisher's Note: As part of an ongoing effort to bring original, thoughtful commentary to you here at the FlashReport, I am pleased to present this column from Matthew Cate.  Mr. Cate was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
- Flash]

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The Schwarzenegger Administration believes that public safety is the number one responsibility of government.  Because of that strongly held belief, cuts to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) have been developed very deliberately in coordination with law enforcement from throughout the state.

While no one is happy to be in the position of discussing a $1.2 billion reduction in the corrections budget, the Administration has developed a proposal in coordination with local law enforcement that is smart on crime, cuts prison populations, and saves taxpayer dollars.  It is our hope that this reasonable and measured package can allow us to achieve our budget cut targets, without the early release that the public has feared.

Our proposal is based on common sense, and has received the support from many in law enforcement who we have engaged as partners in developing this strategy.  Specifically, we are looking to reduce the Average Daily Population in our prison system from about 167,000 today to 140,000 in the coming years through a combination of measures.
  • Prioritizing resources to ensure that we can house serious, violent, and sex offenders and better supervise them on parole: We’re seeking to reduce our prison population by 5,300 over the next year by cutting down on the 70,000+ parole violators who cycle in and out of prison for technical and other violations.  This will also allow us to focus resources on higher risk offenders and reduce parole agents’ caseloads for better supervision.
  • Providing alternatives to prison for lower-level offenders who do not pose a serious risk: We intend to use technology to provide alternative custody options for low-risk offenders with less than 12 months to serve, as well as the elderly and infirmed, to reduce the prison population by 6,300.  Rather than clogging up $48,000 per year prison beds, or $100,000+ prison treatment slots, these offenders would be placed on house arrest, or in a medical or treatment facility, and monitored by GPS.  As an added benefit, the Feds through Medicare can help share the cost of their treatment if they’re outside the bricks and mortar walls of a prison.
  • Adjusting property crime thresholds: We expect to have 5,600 fewer lower level property criminals in state prison for things like writing bad checks, petty theft with a prior, grand theft, and vehicle theft, by raising felony thresholds.  These criminals won’t escape punishment, they just won’t be serving their sentence in extremely expensive state prison beds for property crimes where the dollar value stolen is less than $2,500.
  • Shifting the burden of criminal alien felons onto federal authorities where it belongs: There are 19,000 criminal alien felons in California prisons, and we receive about 11 cents on the dollar for their custody and care.  The Governor is going to review their files, starting with low-level non-serious, violent, or sex offenders, to determine which sentences can be commuted and turned over to the federal government for incarceration or deportation.
  • Encouraging positive behavior through credit enhancements:  Inmates who participate in and complete proven rehabilitation programs such as GED, college degrees, and vocational training, will be able to earn weeks or months off of their sentence, rewarding good behavior that will reduce recidivism.  This is estimated to reduce the prison population by 1,600.
  • Achieving operational savings to reduce costs and increase efficiencies: CDCR is streamlining, consolidating, and eliminating positions at headquarters, the division of juvenile justice, and in the field, to increase efficiency and reduce costs.  This will be done in conjunction with the population reduction reforms in a way that will not only save money, but will also allow us to continue to carry out our core functions
We intend to use technology to provide alternative custody options for low-risk offenders with less than 12 months to serve, as well as the elderly and infirmed, to reduce the prison population by 6,300.  Rather than clogging up $48,000 per year prison beds, or $100,000+ prison treatment slots, these offenders would be placed on house arrest, or in a medical or treatment facility, and monitored by GPS.  As an added benefit, the Feds through Medicare can help share the cost of their treatment if they’re outside the bricks and mortar walls of a prison. There are 19,000 criminal alien felons in California prisons, and we receive about 11 cents on the dollar for their custody and care.  The Governor is going to review their files, starting with low-level non-serious, violent, or sex offenders, to determine which sentences can be commuted and turned over to the federal government for incarceration or deportation.
The CDCR budget package was developed in conjunction with many in law enforcement, including police chiefs, sheriffs, district attorneys, and probation officers.  Just yesterday, the California Police Chiefs Association officially endorsed this proposal, and we believe other associations will follow suit shortly.  While no one will like everything that is being proposed, we believe that this is a smart on crime proposal that allows us to reduce costs without early release or jeopardizing our communities.  Whether this package is voted on with the budget, or at a later date, we believe this is the framework for a deal to cut the necessary $1.2 billion out of corrections without compromising public safety. _______________________________________________

You can e-mail Secretary Cate, via the FR, here.

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