Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Solutions: $550 Million in Annual Cost Reductions

Because of the state’s dire fiscal situation, the question is no longer will we cut the corrections’ budget but how. The answer to that question is critically important. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past. The decisions made now will have real and lasting consequences for the health and safety of California communities for decades.

The State Legislature should reject the Governor’s plan to shift the state’s prison crisis to the counties and should instead adopt sensible, modest reforms that will reduce over-incarceration of non-violent offenders and juveniles, promote rehabilitation, and preserve prison resources for responding to serious offenses.

To end wasteful corrections spending and promote public safety, the state can’t simply pass the problem down to the counties. But there are effective solutions. California can achieve over $550 million in annual savings and promote public safety by implementing the following reforms:

Move incarceration for low-level offenses to the counties, while also reducing the impact on the counties by limiting lengthy sentences:
  • Adjust the dollar threshold for felony property theft—not changed since 1982;
  • Make certain low-level drug and property crimes into misdemeanors; and
  • Make possession of small amounts of drugs (for personal use) a misdemeanor.
Eliminate unnecessary costs at the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation without adding any additional burden to the counties:
  • Eliminate “time adds” which unnecessarily extend the sentences of youth; and
  • Replace the costly and dysfunctional death penalty with permanent imprisonment.
Provide judges more flexibility in sentencing, to safely reduce the costs of handling low-level offenses at the county level:
  • Eliminate probation ineligibility for some low-level drug and property crimes; and
  • Eliminate mandatory minimum jail sentences for some low-level misdemeanors.
In addition, to keep crime on the decline in California, we must also restore funding for alternatives to incarceration and rehabilitation by creating a funding system for counties that provides effective incentives to reduce the number of people in custody at all levels of the system, rather than paying the counties to keep more people locked up. Federal Byrne Grant funds are available to support these critically underfunded crime-prevention programs.

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