|If there is a middle ground it is being voiced by correctional professionals -- most of them from local governments -- who believe that the recent evolution of criminal justice policy has undermined the effectiveness of local programs.|
|If there is a middle ground it is being voiced by correctional professionals -- most of them from local governments -- who believe that the recent evolution of criminal justice policy has undermined the effectiveness of local programs.|
|In 1997, state prisons held more than 13,000 felons whose most serious crime was drug possession; more than 6,700 were in prison for petty theft with a prior.|
|CDC's population projection for the next five years is premised on ever- increasing incarceration rates. The current correctional strategy assumes that a greater and greater percentage of the population will be imprisoned.|
Finding 1: County jails and state prisons do not have adequate space to
house inmates and adequate plans do not exist to deal with the crisis.
California has a bifurcated structure for administering criminal
sanctions that does not allow the best combinations of
punishments and other tools to be used to prevent the escalation
of crime and the recycling of inmates.
Instead of an integrated strategy for effectively dealing with sentenced
criminals, the State has a political patchwork quilt that too often results
in nonviolent and non-serious criminals receiving by default the most
expensive sanction -- prison.
Despite a dramatic drop in the crime rate, the State's prison officials anticipate a continuing rise in the inmate population. From 64,000 inmates a decade ago, to 154,000 inmates now, the California Department of Corrections anticipates 202,000 inmates by the year 2002.
The factors behind this steady rise in prisoners are complex and debated
among the experts. But there is increasing evidence that the growing
inmate population reflects a correctional system that is not using the
most cost-effective strategies available. The consequences of this
failure is a correctional system that demands an increasing share of
public resources, forcing another generation of policy makers into the
Hobson's Choice of building more prisons or more schools.
A Political Patchwork Quilt
Criminal justice has long involved all three branches of government.
Lawmakers define crimes and sanctions, and allocate the resources
to enforce laws and punish violators. The executive branch polices the
streets and administers the sanctions. And the courts declare guilt and
sentence the convicted.
The criminal justice system also extends through all three levels of
government. Historically, ensuring public safety has been the primary
responsibility of local governments. Increasingly in this century,
however, the federal and state governments have taken on larger roles
in funding and administering law enforcement and correctional programs.
This vertical expansion of criminal justice responsibilities has altered how
policies are set, how programs are implemented and ultimately the
successes and failures of individual policies and programs.
In one regard, the federal government is a system unto it own. Federal
agencies enforce the law, adjudicate suspects and incarcerate those
convicted of violating federal laws. Like the state systems the federal
prisons have expanded dramatically during the last generation, filled
largely with drug-related criminals. In 1971, 17 percent of federal
inmates were drug offenders who served an average of 23 months. In
1995, 60 percent of all federal inmates were drug offenders serving an
average of 69 months.(30)
But the federal government also is a conduit for resources and expertise -- a clearinghouse for research, technical assistance and grants. Those functions are intended to encourage local and state agencies to implement the best available crime controlling strategies.
The responsibility for enforcing, adjudicating and sanctioning those who
violate state laws is shared between county and state agencies.
Historically corrections was based on a principle of graduated sanctions
administered primarily by the counties -- with low-level and first-time
criminals receiving the incentive, the assistance and the opportunities to
develop a crime-free life. The State's role focused on operating prisons
for the most serious offenders -- often those who failed local programs
and committed more serious crimes.
As described in the Background, the State of California in recent years
has taken on a larger role in criminal justice. Some of this shift
represents a deliberate emphasis on incarceration as the most expedient
way to improve public safety. The shift represents frustration on the
part of the public and policy makers with the prevalence of crime, and
in particular, more violent crime. A steady stream of legislation -- 400
new laws, by one count -- have increased criminal punishments in recent
years, and in particular expanded the types of crimes that resulted in
state prison sentences, increased prison sentences and restricted the
ability of correctional agencies to reduce the actual time served by
granting good conduct or work credits.
The president of the California Probation, Parole and Correctional
Association characterized this policy shift as a "get tough" attitude on
the part of legislators, judges, and law enforcement:
This attitude and the actions resulting from it have contributed
to, among other things: tougher laws; more probation and parole
violators going to prison; mandatory jail and prison sentences for
offences formerly under the judiciary's discretion; increased
remanding of youthful offenders to adult courts; and the approval
of funds for the construction and operation of prisons, jails and
But the shift also is the unintended result of significant changes made in
California's taxation structure -- most notably Proposition 13 of 1978
and its fiscal aftershocks -- that made counties more reliant on the State
for revenue. Compared to 20 years ago, counties have fewer options for
financing programs and less discretion in how to spend revenues.
In more recent years, counties have been forced to make disproportionate budget cuts as revenue was diverted from local governments to meet other State obligations. County jails and probation departments are just two of the programs that counties must fund from budgets that have not grown as fast as inflation or their population.
So as counties receive fewer resources for sustaining and expanding
local correctional programs to serve growing communities, state laws are
dictating that more of those criminals be sent to state prisons.
The State's correctional program is based in the Youth and Adult
Correctional Agency, which is headed by a cabinet-level secretary. The
California Department of Corrections operates the prison and parole
program. The California Youth Authority operates similar programs for
juvenile offenders. The Board of Prison Terms determines the release of
the small percentage of adult inmates given indeterminate sentences and
administers the parole revocation process. The Youthful Offender Parole
Board determines the release of juvenile offenders.
The Youth and Adult Correctional Agency also houses the Board of
Corrections. The 11-member panel of state and local correctional
experts is appointed by the governor and is charged with a variety of
responsibilities. Principally, it sets standards for construction and
operation of county jails. But as the only correctional entity with a
representative governing body, the board also has responsibility for
reviewing competitive grant proposals, for allocating state funding for jail
construction and for assessing the impacts of tougher sentencing laws
on local jails. The following table summarizes the entities.
California's Correctional Bureaucracy
|Office of Criminal Justice Planning||The director reports directly to the Governor. Office has a staff of 123 and an annual budget, including grants, of $158 million.||Provides technical and financial help to state and local agencies. Develops and distributes the latest crime-fighting strategies.|
|Secretary of Youth and Adult Correctional Agency||Secretary appointed by the Governor and a staff of 11. The office has a budget of $1 million.||Governor's key advisor on public safety issues and oversees youth and adult detention departments.|
|Department of Corrections||The department has 42,400 employees and an annual operating budget of $3.8 billion.||Houses convicted felons at 33 prisons and 52 community correctional centers. Also supervises parolees.|
|Board of Corrections||The 11-person board includes state and local officials. The board has a staff of 52 employees and an annual budget, including grants, of $57 million.||Works with local officials to develop standards for building and operating jails, training and managing staff. Distributes training and crime fighting grants.|
|Board of Prison Terms||The Board is composed of nine gubernatorial appointees, has a staff of 120 and an annual budget of $13 million. The staff has grown by 30 percent in the last three years because of an increasing workload.||Considers parole releases for prisoners sentenced under indeterminate sentencing and for those serving life terms with a possibility of parole. Also revokes parole for convicts who violate their parole.|
|Youthful Offender Parole Board||Seven gubernatorial appointees with 30 staff and a $3.4-million budget.||Reviews cases of convicted youths and grants parole.|
|Department of Youth Authority||The department has 5,400 employees and an annual budget of $432 million.||Houses 9,425 youths at 11 institutions. The inmate population is growing slowly as more youths are sentenced to adult prisons.|
|California Council on Criminal Justice||The panel has 37 members appointed by the Governor, Legislature, Attorney General and the courts. It has no staff or budget.||Advises the Governor and the Legislature on criminal justice issues and policies, and oversees the allocation of some federal grants.|
Independent of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, the State
Office of Criminal Justice Planning, acts as a clearing house for grants
targeted at state and local governments. And the California Highway
Patrol and the Attorney General are the state's law enforcement entities.
As a result of the State's growing role in corrections, the responsibilities of the counties have changed. With more criminal suspects facing longer prison terms, more cases are being tried -- and more defendants housed for longer periods in county jails. County jail facilities have not grown as fast as state prisons, and as a result many offenders who previously were held in county jails are no longer incarcerated or are released early.
Indicators of Dysfunction
Many correctional officials assert that they are implementing a
incarceration-based policy that is widely supported by the public
and purposefully dictated in the statutes. The major limitation on its
effectiveness, they believe, is the financial resources needed to build all
of the needed prisons.
Academic criminologists on the
other hand, overwhelmingly argue
that the resources, responsibilities
and strategies for punishing and
converting criminals into law-abiding citizens are too focused
If there is a middle ground it is
being voiced by an increasing
number of correctional
professionals -- most of them
from local governments -- who
believe that the recent evolution
of criminal justice policy has
undermined the effectiveness of
local programs. A more
systematic approach, they argue,
could be expected to decrease
the need for additional prisons
while ensuring there are enough
prison beds to house those criminals who continue to be a threat to
The most notable of these assessments was made by the Blue Ribbon
Commission on Inmate Population Management. The Commission was
dominated by law enforcement and correctional agencies. Its review
was thorough and its conclusions were blunt:
The criminal justice system in California is out of balance and will remain so unless the entire state and local criminal justice system is addressed from prevention through discharge of jurisdiction." (32)
That was in 1990. The chairman of Blue Ribbon Commission, the
District Attorney for Riverside County, testified that while some marginal
progress has been made, California seven years later is still not
coordinating its efforts and doing all it can at the local level to reduce
prison and jail overcrowding: "The original predominant conclusion by
the commission has not changed."(33)
More specifically, the Blue Ribbon Commission said the state strategy
was too focused on prisons, where not enough is done with inmates to
prevent them from committing new crimes once released. Drug addicts
are not treated; parolees do not receive assistance. County programs,
meanwhile, where there is the opportunity to help low-level criminals
straighten out and avoid future crimes and convictions that will lead to
state prison, had been starved for resources. The Commission asserted:
State and local corrections must be viewed as a system in developing corrections policy. Prison overcrowding is contributed to by probation under-funding and jail overcrowding and under- funding. The corrections system is presently lacking sufficient integrated strategies to manage probation, jail and prison populations.(34)
The chairman of the Blue Ribbon Commission said the same malady
continues to plague corrections. The proliferation of legislated sentence
enhancements has resulted in a "piecemeal" sentencing structure. Judges
lack options, counties lack resources, and as a result more criminals end
up on the road to overcrowded prisons. The system is so skewed, the
chairman said, a fundamental examination and rethinking of the system
must proceed before any effort can be successfully made to re-establish
the local role in corrections.
California's 58 local and independent jail 'systems' are an integral part of any state strategic plan. Before any restructuring or 'realignment' of state-bound inmates into the local systems to solve the state's 'overcrowding' correction's crisis, there must be joint analysis of both our state and local correctional systems.(35)
Frustrated by the lack of reforms resulting from the Blue Ribbon
Commission report, the California Corrections Policy Development
Project, comprised of correctional experts and professionals, issued a
report in 1992 restating the need to take a systematic approach to
corrections. The group's report, Corrections 2000: Policies for the
Future, advocated a greater use of intermediate sanctions that are more
intensive than probation and less costly than prison, and in particular
more drug treatment. The group advocated for balanced funding
between state and local agencies and a review of the sentencing
structure. The group's primary policy statement urged an alignment of
disparate correctional efforts:
The effective provision of correctional services requires an integrated, balanced system of adult and juvenile, state and local activities and programs with a common mission, shared vision and values, and mutually understood roles and responsibilities.(36)
In addition to the judgment of corrections professionals, there are
indicators the system is out of balance, fiscally unsustainable and over
the long term will not provide the desired public safety benefits. Among
The relationship between public safety, recidivism, and drug
abuse is undeniable and significant. An important indicator of the
system's ability to correct individuals is the parolee failure rate,
which also is among the highest in the nation.
Corrections 2000 also cited recidivism as evidence that the system is ineffective over the long term:
Corrections' inability to consistently hold offenders accountable for their behavior contributes to the revolving door of crime. Arrest, incarceration, release and subsequent return to criminal activity.(37)
Among those who believe that valuable prison space needs to be
reserved for serious and violent felons is the California
Correctional Peace Officers Association, which advocates the use
of day reporting centers for some inmates now sent to prison:
Day reporting is one-tenth the cost of incarceration and would improve public safety by saving prison space for serious and dangerous offenders. Such a program for nonviolent, non-serious offenders with no prior prison records would eliminate the need for at least one new prison."(39)
But CDC officials maintain
prison population is not
correlated with crime rates.
That is, that even as crime
decreases, arrests and
convictions can be expected to
remain high, because arrests
and convictions are the product
of resources spent on police
officers and prosecutors.
Importantly, CDC's population projection for the next five years is premised on ever- increasing incarceration rates. The current correctional strategy assumes that a greater and greater percentage of the population will be imprisoned.(40)
Obstacles to Integration
Policy analysts from a variety of perspectives acknowledge that one of the challenges that correctional agencies face is that criminal justice policy consumes even more of the public agenda than it does public budgets, and as a result policy often is driven by opinion polls and distilled into sound bites. It is academician's lament:
There are few areas where the conflict between rational policy analysis and political reality has been more intense than in crime policy. The public has translated it concern about crime into a demand for increased criminalization, longer sentences and harsher prison conditions. Policy analysts are virtually unanimous in their belief that these are often ineffective and excessively expensive measures, and that other strategies would achieve the agreed upon goal in a more effective manner.(41)
As long as public safety is a high priority among citizens, debating and
shaping criminal justice policy will be high on the agenda of elected
leaders. The attention of elected leaders, however, is something that
many public managers and reform advocates struggle to generate. The
challenge is using that political muscle to craft a cost-effective strategy.
Policy analysts and program managers have identified a number of short-comings that must be corrected for this to happen:
To the counties it is a free lunch ... this is an unintended problem of having one level of government sentence people to prison and another level of government be responsible for providing the prisons.(45)
But some judges said they do not consider who will pay for the marginal cost of another felon. If county probation is overloaded and the county jail is under a court-ordered population cap, some judges feel their only real option is state prison.
Researchers have a responsibility to provide policy relevant information, but correctional leaders have the responsibility to derive policy prescriptions, based on research and other considerations. If each takes those responsibilities seriously, we will establish a cumulative body of information about what works. With such data we should again be able to inspire the confidence of policy makers and the public and ultimately return the development of policy back into the hands of correctional professionals -- where it clearly belongs.(46)
Creating an Integrated System
Existing state law recognizes the need for comprehensive planning.
State law directs the Office of Criminal Justice Planning, in
coordination with the Criminal Justice Council, to annually develop a
comprehensive statewide plan for the improvement of criminal justice
and delinquency prevention activity throughout the state. But the office
has not prepared a statewide plan.(47)
Both the Blue Ribbon Commission and Corrections 2000 reports asserted
that such a plan is essential to setting deliberate policy goals, aligning
correctional programs to those goals, and ensuring that local and state
agencies are working toward the same end.
Corrections 2000 said the agencies needed a common mission, a shared
vision and values, and mutually understood roles and responsibilities:
The guiding premise of the California Corrections Policy Development Project is that corrections can function more effectively than it does now. What has emerged as the common thread is that if corrections is to be more effective it must become a more integrated system. Especially given the limited resources but seemingly limitless demands facing corrections entities, corrections must become more balanced, more cooperative and more collaborative than it is today.
The chairman of the Blue Ribbon Commission said only small steps had
been made toward the kind of systematic assessment recommended by
the panel. Specifically, the Commission had recommended the
establishment of a corrections coordinating council. The California
Corrections Executive Council has been formed, but it does not have a
staff to develop a plan. The Board of Corrections, he noted, has started
an annual jail survey to provide data on local correctional populations and
The Little Hoover Commission was advised that whichever venue were
to be selected for the creation of a state corrections strategy, its goals
should be multi-fold.
While adequate funding of state programs is essential to restoring this trust, the Commission also was told that local participation in the policy development process is essential. The California State Association of Counties (CSAC) said the diversity of local officials is often not represented in the corrections debate:
CSAC strongly supports the formation of a panel of local government officials to help oversee statewide corrections policies. In addition, CSAC suggest that the formation of a panel of local government officials would ... help build broad political support for plans that may be developed.(50)
In developing a more integrated correctional policy, State and local
leaders can look among themselves for procedures that have shown
promise. CDC's planning and design process has been lauded for its
ability to constantly reassess its designs, review and test new
technologies, and measure progress against verifiable benchmarks --
such as lifecycle costs per cell. The State needs the same capability for
continuous improvement in crafting and implementing overall correctional
policy. Similarly, some of the plans developed by counties under the
Community-Punishment Act of 1994 were developed in collaborative
procedures that brought together law enforcement, business leaders,
judges, educators and counselors. In some cases, the product was a
plan to assume a larger role in corrections that had broad community
support and a commitment to make the plan successful.
The State, however, needs more than just a plan. The State needs a
process and a venue for developing and continuously refining a balanced
and collaborative correctional strategy. The development of a
coordinated approach was advocated by the Blue Ribbon Commission on
Inmate Population Management in 1990. The need remains unmet.
These systematic problems with California's correctional programs are
the product of an ad hoc correctional policy that has evolved over
time -- influenced more by high-profile and isolated crimes than by
reason and analysis. Compromises are forced by crises and forged
during budget negotiations, when several unrelated policy issues are on
the table simultaneously. Holistic reforms -- such as the expansion of
community corrections and intermediate sanctions -- have languished in
the absence of a coordinated and comprehensive approach. Without a
mechanism for coordinating the efforts of local and state authorities and
strategically implementing the most cost-effective correctional tools
available, the State can expect to spend a larger share of public
resources to incarcerate a larger percentage of the population.
Recommendation 1: The Governor and the Legislature should enact legislation
creating a venue and a process for developing, evaluating, refining and funding
a statewide corrections strategy that protects the public in the most cost-effective