Californias Proposal To Reducing Prison Crowding Criminology Essay

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Prison overcrowding has been an epidemic that not only dominates today but dates back to as early as the nineteenth century (Durham, 1994, pg. 46). Philadelphia's Walnut Street Jail was plagued by overcrowding and New York's Newgate Prison faced overcrowding within a decade of its opening. The Auburn Prison was constructed to provide relief, but that solution lasted only temporarily (Durham, 1994, pg. 47).

The impact of prison overcrowding is bountiful and it includes prison violence, recidivism, and inmate well-being. Prison violence arises from the elevated level of anxiety and fear caused by crowding, which in turn leads to acts of aggression (Durham, 1994, pg. 48). As it concerns recidivism, crowding impacts that the integrity and effectiveness of imprisonment as a deterrent and the effectiveness of rehabilitative programs (Durham, 1994, pg. 49). Finally, crowding can lead to stress which may result in the detriment of physical health, mental health, and even suicide (Durham, 1994, pg. 41).

Overcrowding was a problem during the penitentiary era and it continues to be an issue today. Despite technological advances, policy reforms, and over two centuries to correct, the issue of crowding is still prevalent in institutions nationwide.

Background behind the State's Proposal

Prison overcrowding appears to be dominating every institution nationwide and California is no exception. In past cases filed by Coleman and Plata, the plaintiffs alleged that California's prisons were unconstitutional in its delivery of medical and mental health care (Constitutional Law, 2009, pg. 752). When policy implementations and remedial efforts failed due to overcrowding, Plata and Coleman combined to request that California reduce its prison population (Constitutional Law, 2009, pg. 753).

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During trial, evidence offered and expert testimonies overwhelmingly showed that

overcrowding was the primary cause. Overcrowding has lead to limited clinical facilities and resources, shortages of clinical personnel to appropriately treat inmates, and substantially increased the risk of disease transmissions (Plata, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Schwarzenegger, et al., Defendants, 2009, pg. 3). The evidence presented also showed that due to California's economic crisis and defendant's failure to delivery constitutional health care within the past fourteen years, the only remedy that can provide adequate medical and mental health care is a prisoner release order (Plata, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Schwarzenegger, et al., Defendants, 2009, pg. 5-6).

Having seen and heard the evidence, the court determined that constitutional violations were prevalent throughout the California prison system and a system-wide remedy was necessary (Constitutional Law, 2009, pg. 755). With the prison system operating at 190% of capacity, there was no denying the existence of prison overcrowding. The maximum prison population needed to be reduced to some level between 130% and 140%. The court set the reduction at 137.5% and ordered the state to develop a proposal to reduce the prison population over two years (Constitutional Law, 2009, pg. 756).

The State's Response

Evidence and expert testimonies were presented and overcrowding was ruled as the primary caused for the numerous constitutional violations. A Three-Judge Court was appointed and ordered the state to submit a population reduction plan. The State's initial proposal was rejected and a new proposal that provides for a reduction to 137.5% was submitted on October 2009 (Coleman, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Schwarzenegger, et al., Defendants, 2009, pg. 2).

The State addressed overcrowding by first proposing new legislative and administrative reforms. With the passage of Senate Bill 18, the State proposed reforming pre-custody

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procedures by offering funding to counties based on the success of their evidence-based probation programs. Senate Bill 18 also called for in-custody reforms by providing eligible inmates with several credit earning enhancements. Finally, Senate Bill 18 seeks to reform parole by rethinking how California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) address sanctions for parole violations. The State suggest preventing CDCR from returning low risk parolees to prison and by allowing parolees with drug and mental health needs to receive treatments in the community (Coleman, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Schwarzenegger, et al., Defendants, 2009, pg. 5-8). The State estimates that pre-custody reform will result in a 1,900 reduction, in-custody reforms will result in a 3,000 reduction, and parole reforms will result in a 4,500 reduction (Coleman, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Schwarzenegger, et al., Defendants, 2009, pg. 5-7).

As for administrative reforms, the State will continue to process 400 inmates per month for transfer to out-of-state private facilities (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation [CDCR], 2007, pg. 2). The state currently has 8,000 inmates out-of-state and hopes to house a total of 10,468 by January 2011 (Coleman, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Schwarzenegger, et al., Defendants, 2009, pg. 9). In addition, the State recently implemented a new policy to discharge over 12,000 criminal aliens from parole and place them in federal custody for deportation (Coleman, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Schwarzenegger, et al., Defendants, 2009, pg. 10).

The State next addressed overcrowding by presenting plans that would help increase prison capacity. According to the Assembly Bill 900, $7.6 billion was allocated to reduce prison overcrowding and increase rehabilitative programs (Coleman, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Schwarzenegger, et al., Defendants, 2009, pg. 10). The Governor too proposes that $10.9 billion be allocated to expand California's prisons and jails (Office of the Governor, 2009, pg. 1). Of the $10.9 billion, the Governor proposed that $5.5 billion be use to fund 45,000 beds in local jails and 5,000 beds in juvenile facilities. Next, $4.4 billion of the $10.9 billion will fund

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approximately 16,000 new beds in existing prisons as well as add 5,000-7,000 beds to new re-entry facilities. Finally, the remaining $1 billion will be use to address the concerns of Plata and Coleman by constructing medical, dental and mental health facilities (Office of the Governor, 2009, pg. 1). It is estimated that approximately 8,000 medical/mental health beds will created (CDCR, 2007, pg. 3).

In addition to reforms and increasing capacity, the Governor has a special session proposal that would require offenders with no prior serious or violent offenses and convicted of a "wobbler" crime to be sentenced to a maximum of one year and one day in jail rather than state prison (Taylor, 2010, pg. 1-2). The proposal is projected to minimize overcrowding by reducing the inmate population by 24,500 in 2010-11 (Taylor, 2010, pg. 4).

Other proposals include increasing the dollar threshold for property crimes from $400 to $950, thereby exposing fewer offenders to felony persecution (Coleman, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Schwarzenegger, et al., Defendants, 2009, pg. 19). Another proposal would be housing inmates in private facilities in the State by leasing or building new beds through private vendor contracts. The proposal estimates a 5,000 reduction at 33 existing facilities by 2011 (Coleman, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Schwarzenegger, et al., Defendants, 2009, pg. 21-22). Reducing recidivism was also a goal and the Governor addressed recidivism by funding 16,000 new beds in secure re-entry facilities. Accompanying these beds will be rehabilitative programs such as job training, GED coursework, counseling and housing placement (CDCR, 2007, pg. 2).

Financial Ramifications

As of June 2007, the prison population reached a high of 173,312 and the number is projected to increase to 179,105 by June 2009 (Legislative Analyst's Office [LAO], 2008, pg. 1). With record numbers, the State's proposal is estimated to help reduce the average inmate

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population by approximately 28,000 (LAO, 2008, pg. 1). The proposal offers legislative and administrative reforms, building more beds, keeping low-level offenders at local jails, and reducing recidivism. As these proposals come into effect, the fiscal impacts it may have must be considered.

The Governor's proposal is slated to expand prison capacity by 44,000 beds with an estimated total capital cost of $6 billion. As these proposals become fully implemented, the cost for operating the beds and for on-going debt service will bloom to $2.5 billon annually by 2013-14 (LAO, 2006, pg. 1). The Legislative Analyst's Office (2006, pg. 3) also estimates that the proposal will increase the budget to $12.5 billion by 2013-14, which is $1.2 billion more than without the proposal. The increase in the budget is a result of additional costs for debt service, costs for opening new facilities, and for the increase in rehabilitative programs (LAO, 2006, pg. 3).

Programs for reducing recidivism were also designed and a one-time appropriation of $50 million was provided to help expand rehabilitation. The appropriation is expected to be depleted by 2009-10 and a $76 million fund would be required thereafter (LAO, 2008, pg. 6).

As far as medical care for inmates, the budget for 2009-10 sets aside $1.8 billion for medical operations under the control of the Receiver (LAO, 2010, pg. 1). As for 2010-11, the budget for medical care would see a $788 million reduction which would put the budget at around $1 billion (LAO, 2010, pg. 2).

The proposal is also slated to provide the State with several savings. With program reforms such as commuting sentences and deporting criminal aliens, credit earning enhancements, increasing the dollar threshold, and fiscal incentives for counties, approximately $1.2 billion in savings is predicted (Taylor, 2010, pg. 1). The Governor's special session proposal is also projected to yield a reduction in prison costs. By keeping low-risk offenders at

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local jails, the session proposal is estimated to save $5 million in 2009-10 and about $250 million in 2010-11 (Taylor, 2010, pg.4).


Prison overcrowding has been a problem since the development of the penitentiary and despite time to reform and improve, today's prisons are still faced with the issue of crowding. Crowding poses several major impacts and in California, prison overcrowding has lead to the unconstitutional delivery of medical and mental health care for the inmates. Plaintiffs Plata and Coleman filed suit against the State seeking remedial efforts, but crowding rendered several remedial attempts ineffective. The Three-Judge Court was asked to intervene and a proposal to reduce the prison population to 137% was ordered. The State submitted plans to increase capacity, implement rehabilitative programs to reduce recidivism, reform parole, and several other legislative and administrative reforms. Despite projections that the proposal would increase the correctional budget, the State's proposal is expected to yield roughly $1.2 billion in savings and possibly more. The proposal and the fiscal implications are estimates and the figures are liable to change depending on factors such population totals, inmate health costs, contract costs and statue reforms (LAO, 2006, pg. 3). Until the proposal and all programs and reforms are fully implemented, it's tough to get a clear picture of costs and benefits of the plan. For now, the goal is to have the plans in place and let time reveal the effectiveness and flaws of the proposal.

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