Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Experts Agree: Small Changes Would Have Major Pay-Off

To end wasteful corrections spending and promote public safety, California should follow the advice of every expert panel and commission that has considered the issue: California needs to reform its sentencing practices. California can achieve over $550 million in annual savings and promote public safety by implementing the following reforms instead of the Governor’s flawed proposal:
  • Keep petty offenders at the local level (and out of the costly prison system): Two-thirds of California inmates are in prison for non-violent, property or drug offenses. To ensure that those convicted of petty drug and property crimes are dealt with at the local level, sentences need to be readjusted as follows: (1) the dollar threshold defining when property theft is a felony should be adjusted based on inflation (it hasn’t been changed since 1982); (2) certain low-level property crimes that can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor should be treated as misdemeanors only; and (3) possession of small amounts of drugs should be treated as a misdemeanor.
  • Ensure fair sentencing and rehabilitation for youth: Youth in California serve the longest average sentences in the nation. Currently, the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has the ability to keep youth locked up longer by giving them "time adds" based on behavior. Time adds account for one third of all custody time in DJJ. Assembly Member Nancy Skinner's bill, AB 999, would eliminate time adds and establish an incentive program in which young people can earn credits for program participation. AB 999 would cut state costs by over $130 million and would lead to further facility closures by reducing the number of young people in state custody.
  • Replace the dysfunctional death penalty with permanent imprisonment: The Governor has the power to convert death sentences to permanent imprisonment today, a reform that will have absolutely no impact on public safety and put no extra burdens on the counties. Permanent imprisonment provides swift and certain punishment. Replacing the death penalty with permanent imprisonment will save the state $125 million every year. In addition, we’ll save an additional $400 million in construction costs because we won’t need to build a new death row.
In addition to these reforms to keep costs down, to keep crime moving down in California, we must also restore funding for alternatives to incarceration and rehabilitation.

It is time for all Californians to demand a just budget: Sacramento must end the waste in corrections, ensure that public safety dollars are used effectively, and protect all Californian communities by preserving funding for education, rehabilitation, and core social services.

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