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No Easy Answers to Fixing State’s Overcrowded Prison System

Audio

Aired 8/19/09

A bloody riot at the California Institution for Men in Chino left dormitories in shambles, and sent 175 inmates to the hospital. The race-fueled riot was the latest example of the problems that currently exist in the state's overcrowded prison system. We speak to an SDSU professor, and the founder of the Second Chance program about what can be done to fix California's correctional system.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. A panel of federal judges earlier this month issued an unprecedented ruling about California's prisons because, they say, inadequate medical facilities and overcrowding are putting prisons in violation of the 8th Amendment. California has been ordered to lower its prison population by 40,000 inmates over the next two years. Almost on cue to underscore the judges ruling, Chino prison erupted in violence. A riot, reportedly racially motivated, injured 175 inmates, some critically. Two housing units at the prison were destroyed by fire. State officials say they do not have the money during these hard times either to build more prisons or expand medical facilities. But California says it will appeal the order to cut the inmate population to the US Supreme Court. How did it get to the point that California prisons are found to be places of cruel and unusual punishment? And, what will our cash-strapped state do to fix its prisons, or to help former prisoners assimilate into society? I'd like to welcome my guests to discuss the issue. Alan Mobley is here, Professor of Criminal Justice in the School of Public Affairs at San Diego State University. And good morning, Alan, welcome to These Days.

ALAN MOBLEY (Professor of Criminal Justice, San Diego State University): Good morning. Good to be here.

CAVANAUGH: And Scott Silverman is founder and executive director of the Second Chance program. He's author of "Tell Me No, I Dare You: A Guide to Living a Heroic Life." Scott, welcome back.

SCOTT SILVERMAN (Founder/Executive Director, Second Chance Program): Good morning, Maureen. Nice to be here. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And we invite our listeners to join the conversation. Is the situation in California's prisons a sign that our get tough policy on crime is a failure? Will a cut in the prison population mean an increase in crime for the rest of us? Give us a call with your questions and your comments, 1-888-895-5727, that's 1-888-895-KPBS. Well, Alan, tell us if you can, what happened a couple of weeks ago at the prison in Chino. Do we know what caused that riot?

MOBLEY: Well, as far as I know, what happened there was nothing in particular but probably more the result of hot weather that happens in Chino, where it's often under a hundred – over a hundred degrees this time of year, and severe overcrowding. You throw a lot of people together, especially young males, most of whom are fresh off the streets after their convictions, you throw them together in overcrowded situations with a lot of heat and a lot of stress and problems are bound to occur, and I think that probably that's what happened this time. And as far as the disturbance breaking down upon racial lines, along racial lines, that's the norm for our prison system, which has been segregated along racial lines for decades now.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us a little bit more, if you can, about what conditions are like in Chino this time of year. You mentioned heat, you mentioned overcrowding. How overcrowded is it? I mean, what is it really like?

MOBLEY: Well, Chino is known as a reception center within the California Department of Corrections, which means that it's a place where prisoners are sent following conviction in the courts where they are then assessed by corrections authorities for their security level and for their program needs and then they are sent on from Chino to a permanent designation. So tempers often run high, people's nerves are shot. They – If you can put yourself in the place of these people, most of whom are parole violators, by the way, they've recently been in communities, right, living in their own homes, they've run into some trouble, found themselves snatched up and run through a court system or a jail system and now find themselves back in prison. And around 70% are parole violators, so to say back in prison is appropriate, and their lives and their plans, their hopes and dreams are now shattered or, at a minimum, put on hold. And they're congregated there together in these very high numbers sort of in a warehouse situation, dormitories often three bunks high. In some cases, there are dormitories that have been made out of gymnasiums or reading rooms or other places that weren't really intended for housing, which means there aren't very many bathrooms to be shared. And you just add to this mix of people who are being segregated along racial lines and maybe they didn't come into prison with overly harsh racial attitudes but while – when in prison, they are met at the gate with this asking for a declaration from them of what race do you belong to? And then they're introduced to racial leaders from that particular group and their housing and their associations are then channeled along the particular race that they happen to claim.

CAVANAUGH: Alan, let me ask you, is it true that Chino is housing now twice as many prisoners as it was built for?

MOBLEY: Yes, and that's generally true throughout the state system.

CAVANAUGH: And, Scott, I want to ask you, at Second Chance, you work with a lot of men who are coming out of prison and trying to rebuild their lives. And I wonder, what are they telling you about prison life? What stories do you hear?

SILVERMAN: Well, similar to what Alan outlined, and that is the overcrowding but, you know, nowadays they – they're lucky they get to take a shower once a week and they get about 16 seconds to have a meal. And, you know, they're dealing with not only overcrowding and the issues around the race issues but also the correctional staff is short right now because of the budget issues, so you've got these ratios of correctional officers to inmates, you've got the frustration they have of being in the system, and most of the folks that are in Chino, from what I understand, are coming out of the LA County Sheriffs Department so they're already coming out of an incubator of pain going into a system of more pain with less supervision and with the reduction of resources and programs because all of those things are gone because now they're triple bunking, as Alan said, and the overcrowding just combines the issues and the frustration that they have that, you know, even though it's a reception yard, they know they're only going to be there a short period of time but still they're acting out because they've got to put their colors out to let people know who they are so they can survive.

CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Scott Silverman and Professor Alan Mobley and we're talking about California prisons, the overcrowding, and the order that a federal panel issued that the inmate population must shrink by 40,000 during the next two years. Alan, I want to talk a little bit more about this what I think is really sort of shocking to a lot of people, is this official segregation by race. I wonder what are some of the problems that result from this kind of segregation?

MOBLEY: Well, it's a mess. I mean, to think that in 2009 in our society we have one of our largest social institutions, the California State Prison system being managed according to maybe what could be called the lowest common denominator, simply the color of people's skin. It's a travesty in this country and I don't think the blame can be put entirely at the feet of corrections officials because just like prisoners, they are put in a very difficult position as well. As we've said, the system is overcrowded, way over what it's intended capacity is, double the number of people, now being asked to work with even less funds, and they're trying to manage the best they can and they've found that they can ensure, at least in the short term, the safety of their staff and prisoners by putting people with those who they are most likely to get along with and that would mean people of the same or similar race and then in the case of Hispanics, people who are from the same geographical area. And so Hispanics from Northern California are separated from those from Southern California.

CAVANAUGH: But the federal prison doesn't operate – The federal prison system does not operate like that, does it?

MOBLEY: No, for the most part it doesn't. One of the differences would be that the federal prison system has the luxury of being able to transfer prisoners all over the country, having their string of prisons throughout the country. The federal system is around the same size. It's slightly larger even than California's prison system but they can move people around, which is a significant management tool, as well as potential punishment where when prisoners don't get along they can be sent thousands of miles, literally, from their families and causing additional hardships. But although there were difficulties, especially for prisoners who are accustomed to leading segregated lives, when the federal system decided to implement this blending sort of policy there were difficulties at first but over time it seems to have worked out fairly well without significant increases in disciplinary issues.

CAVANAUGH: And, Scott, again, I'm wondering what kind of results do you see from men coming out of prison who have been perhaps inculcated with this sort of segregation mentality?

SILVERMAN: Well, you know, societally we have it, too. If you take a look at different parts of our community, you have, you know, people kind of self select and they're a little more comfortable with their own, whatever that might be defined as, whether it's a faith based or an ethnicity or a culture or what country they come from. You know, I like to think I hang out with my kind of people, knuckleheads, so, you know, there's not really a zip code for that but you know what I'm talking about. We're all kind of comfortable with it. Societally, I think that's something that happens. The difference in society is, you think about it from a gang perspective, most gangs are actually run from prison so that hierarchy and that power base that still exists in prisons today, you know, if you will, bleeds over into the community. So what happens is, individuals go in and you talk to most people that I've met and they'll tell you that it's a survival tool. You go into prison, you join. And really when you talk to the correctional officers and you talk to the correction administration they'll tell you in many ways, and so will the streets, prisons are really run in many ways by the prisoners. They set the hierarchy because, you know, correctional officers, with the ratios we are today, they're not about to get – intervene. And they can only watch them so many – and shifts change every eight to ten hours. So you've got this general population then you've got the segregation so, in many ways, as Alan said, you know, it's like the least worst situation and the best safety component they possibly have because those kind of acting outs always seem to happen no matter what you do in prison because, again, you've got people living in cages and they're being treated like animals and the bottom line is they're going to act like them while we continue to treat them. And people say, well, look, they deserve it. Well, they might deserve it but to treat them like that, all we're doing is giving them new tools that when they come out, they now have this Ph.D. in criminogenic thinking. So nothing in our system, in my opinion, and the research shows, is working to transition people out to the community.

CAVANAUGH: Alan, as a criminal justice professor, you study where – how we've gotten to this position, and I wonder if you could break down to us some of the reasons that you think there are so many people in prison in California? What have we done in – to get our prison population to this precarious point?

MOBLEY: Well, I guess there's the how and there's the why. And the why is probably a very controversial topic and especially after just briefly discussing about race, the why can get especially contentious because one thing that's not lost on prisoners is just as they look around them, noticing that the overwhelming majority of prisoners are of racial minorities, African-Americans and Latinos. And they've noticed in the communities that they tend to come from, which are high-minority, poor places with dysfunctional social institutions and failing schools, they notice that this seems to be something of their lot in life, that they are tracked or channeled, if you will, from poor, sometimes ghetto communities in our urban areas, into prisons. And it seems like that they are being segregated and managed in this way that's much different from the rest of society. And part of what I mean by the differences, crime is fairly ubiquitous in society. People commit crime. We see, routinely, corporations being accused of crimes, white collar criminals, physicians, law enforcement officers themselves, and what happens? Typically, some sort of regulatory maneuver comes into play where they pay a fine and go on with their lives. And what happens to the crime that is committed by people in urban areas, you know, what we typically think of as street crime? Something far different. We tend to track them into prison and then once in prison and then upon release, we tend to return them to prison again and again and again in this state for what are termed parole violations, things that are very often administrative in nature and not reflective of new criminal conduct.

CAVANAUGH: You mentioned the huge number of people in Chino, for instance, who are there because they violated parole. But I wonder how much other laws that we have, the three strikes law, I read that there are one in five of our inmates is now in prison for life without the possibility of parole. We have the, as I say, the three strikes and the drug laws that until very recently channeled everyone, all violators, into prison. Are those things – have they been mounting up to the point that we see now with so many people in prison?

MOBLEY: Certainly, and that mounting up probably is a very good way of describing it. It's over the last 30, almost 40 years now, that California's laws have become what people often refer to as punitive, more punitive. So more people and for more offenses are being sent to prison for longer periods than before. And most people are shocked to learn that in the 1970s California's recidivism rate was relatively low, that it's been from that time until now that recidivism has gone up so much, with recidivism, of course, meaning return to prison. The reason isn't because that people who are leaving prisons are committing more crime, but simply because our system is treating the people differently, returning them to prison not for new criminal conduct but for technical violations of parole. Currently, we have around 90,000 people coming to prison in California each year for parole violations and over 60,000 of that total is technical violation and they tend to go for very short periods of time, so for one, two, maybe four months. So I know that most of us, and I'm certain our listeners, think of people going to prison for years on end, lock them up and throw away the key, but that simply has not been the case in California which where the state prison system is now being used as a short term sort of passageway for parole violators. And not only does that overcrowd the prisons and cost significant amount of funds but when you think about it from the community perspective, you have tens of thousands of people cycling from prison back to communities only to stay for a few months, 30, 60, 90 days, trying to rejoin their families, find places to live, get jobs, and then they're once again extracted from those communities and placed back to prison with the cycle repeating over and over and over again. So not only does the strain appear in prisons with the racial issues, the overcrowding and the burdening of staff and programs but the strain also appears in home communities where people are continually trying to adjust and readjust, their family members, sons, uncles, fathers, I mean, think of the children trying to readjust over and over again to family members returning and then leaving again.

CAVANAUGH: That is Alan Mobley and – one of my guests, along with Scott Silverman. We are talking about the California prison system, and when we return, we'll talk about the prison guards and also how prison inmates can reassimilate into the larger society. And our number here is 1-888-895-5727. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. We'll be back in just a few moments.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. California has recently been ordered to cut its prison population by 40,000 inmates over the next two years, and we're talking about how California might be able to do that and how we got into this situation to begin with. My guests are Alan Mobley, Professor of Criminal Justice in the School of Public Affairs at San Diego State University, and Scott Silverman, who is founder and executive director of the Second Chance program. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Joining us on the line right now is Leety (sp). He's calling from El Centro. Good morning, Leety.

LEETY (Caller, El Centro): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were a woman, Leety, thank you for calling.

LEETY: Yes, I am. I am a correction officer and I've been one for ten years. And firsthand, I see the overcrowdedness. It's crazy.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us about it.

LEETY: Well, just imagine yourself with one other partner. You have one officer in a gun post in a building full of 200 inmates.

CAVANAUGH: And what facility do you work at?

LEETY: I work at Calipatria.

CAVANAUGH: And have you personally had any incidents, any threats or things that you'd like to tell us?

LEETY: Not threats against me. I have been involved – I was involved in a big riot we had back in 2005 and it's wild. It's frightening.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for your call. I appreciate it. And I would imagine that's the other side of the coin of this overcrowding, is what it does to the correctional offices (sic). Alan.

MOBLEY: Oh, sure, it can – It's an amazing experience to go up to one of these large California state prisons that typically house over 5,000 human beings and watch the staff come into work, that it's like watching people going into battle. They're wearing, usually, fatigue type uniforms, they've got gear strapped all over them, and the bravado that they show with each other really is indicative of this stress and this nervousness of people who are going into a high tension situation. And here at San Diego State in the Criminal Justice program, many of our students aspire to careers in law enforcement and, some of them, in corrections. And trying to prepare them not just with legal knowledge and knowledge of the criminal justice system but for the personal costs of entering into this occupation is part of what we try to do and we have a lot of compassion for the individuals who we send in the name of the people of the State of California, send every day into this situation.

CAVANAUGH: Let's take another call. Gardie is calling from East San Diego. Good morning, Gardie. Welcome to These Days.

GARDIE (Caller, San Diego): How you doing?

CAVANAUGH: Great.

GARDIE: Yes, I was – I have done time before. I have been incarcerated at a young age. I started off at Rancho Del Campo, went to Preston, Tracy, Soledad, so I know the prison system and everything in it, the mentality, everything. Now, the problem is that the state is unable to resolve the things that are needed in the prison system probably because they don't know how.

CAVANAUGH: Right, I think – I think that we've found that out. Thank you for your call, Gardie. And Gardie was in the prison system for quite some time, for 20 years apparently, I saw in the lead-up to his call. And I'm just wondering, Scott, these problems have been going on for quite some time.

SILVERMAN: Oh, sure, you know, and you take a look. And I just got a little statistic here that in 1994 to now, the cost of the budget in California's gone up to actually it says $13 billion, fivefold since '94. So, you know, the overcrowding, the three strikes issue you're talking about, the violators, you know, and it's interesting the conversation right now happening at the state level and the governor had 45 days to come up with a plan for early rele – These aren't really going to be actually early releases when you think about it because there's 170,000 inmates right now in the 33 prisons. 95% of them get out, 95%. The average taxpayer doesn't know that. And they're costing us roughly $50,000 a year to be there. So they get out but eight out of ten go back. So right now, if we don't do something in the community to create a safety net because corrections is doing a pretty good job. Their safety record's actually pretty exceptional in the State of California. The problem is when individuals get out with no ID, no job, no place to go, disenfranchised families – And, by the way, their behavior created it so it's not the society's fault but at the end of the day, they're coming back to society, if you will. So if we're not doing something pre- and post-release, I think 90% of rehab has to happen post-release. You set the seeds, you plant the seeds, you do what you can, and then when they get out, if they don't have a place to live or a place to create an income or a place to feel part of or have any self-worth, they're going to continue to do what they've always done and all the evidence-based research done by all corrections, the community, the universities, experts like Alan, shows all that. So it's not an opinion anymore and it's not, you know, subjective, it's factual. Corrections cannot do rehab effectively. And with these current ratios of correctional officers to inmates and the overcrowding, it's a real problem. Right now, Senator Ducheny's working on a Senate Bill 151, which is reentry courts so maybe people can go to these reentry courts in lieu of being incarcerated to help stop, slow down some of these violators because the statistics show through community corrections, if we do a good job once they're on probation to prevent them from going or recriminating, we can actually have some systemic change and effect and keep them – If we don't keep them out of prison, the recidivism rate's going to continue. And if we don't find ways to solve the problems post-release, the recidivism's going to continue and we're going to find ourselves, in five years, building more prisons and you and I'll be sitting here talking about it and Alan and I will come in our walkers and we'll find ways to sit here and we'll go, you know what, this conversation's going on for 30 years now. It's not – The fix is not hard but we have to find leadership that wants to take on the challenge.

CAVANAUGH: Let's take another call. Pam is calling from Point Loma. Good morning, Pam. Welcome to These Days.

PAM (Caller, Point Loma): Good morning. I am calling – I think you just maybe have answered part of the question that I had. I was a former criminal defense attorney and (audio dropout) issues you're talking about particularly with regard to three strikes and also the parole violations. My issue is that at some level we've got to remember that the prisoner is still, as they would say, property of the prison system. And, therefore, if there's a parole violation that's of a technical nature, we have to look at the why of the parole violation because the prisoner has an obligation as well to prove that he or she is capable of doing the kinds of – or meeting the obligations that are set forth in the provisions of parole. So if the (audio dropout) prisoner is (audio dropout)…

CAVANAUGH: Okay, I think we've lost Pam. I think we got her point, though.

SILVERMAN: Maureen, I want to jump in and…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

SILVERMAN: …say something. You know, the proposal with this new early release they're calling it, these 40,000 individuals, according to the plan to cut the deficit down, is they're not going to have these individuals on parole. They're going to be released without parole supervision.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

SILVERMAN: So with 80% recidivism, is what they're talking about, 80% recidivism right now with parole supervision. The initial conversations were that they're going to release these 40,000 or the violators, if you will, and they're not going to – They're proposing not to put them on supervised parole to help save some money. So, you know, it's going to be a whole different environment if this plan gets approved, and it still has to be submitted, it still has to be approved, and I know Jerry Brown is getting ready to do what he has to do to try to stop it.

CAVANAUGH: Well, our Attorney General is going to appeal this decision by this federal panel and he says he'll take it to the Supreme Court. We have yet to see whether they'll accept the case or how their ruling will be. But, Alan, I'm wondering, what I have heard is that in order to reduce the prison population by 40,000 in two years, if indeed that order holds, that what they're – may be doing is simply not violating so many parole – parolees and sending them back. Do you think that that would be the solution? That would reduce our prison inmate population?

MOBLEY: Well, talking about solutions is very difficult and tricky ground because, as we've already suggested, this problem has been decades in the making and it's very complex. Just a hint at the complexity would look at the high school dropout rate and you see that in the state, for minority males, our boys of color in this state tend to drop out at rates of over 50%. And then research has shown that more than half of those dropouts will end up in state prison within a few years. And so the way I look at it simply is that our schools, especially our urban high schools, tend to be a poor fit for the people who live near them and who we intend to attend them. So what can we do at the school level to make the schools a better fit for the people who will go there. I think that is something that could just, you know, give a hint at what a long term solution would be.

CAVANAUGH: Right, you're taking it all the way back to the fact that people should get an education and shouldn't offend to begin with.

MOBLEY: Right, that…

CAVANAUGH: Yes, exactly.

MOBLEY: What does society have for you…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

MOBLEY: …if you're going to a failing school, right, if you find so little there of value for yourself that you choose to leave and become a high school dropout because whatever the alternative is seems to be more appealing. All right, what does society have to offer? Not much. And these problem people, people who aren't following the track that society has laid out for them or at least that we say that we intend to lay out for them, what are they to do? How are they to be managed? And what we've – what we seem to have chosen to do over the past few decades is to lock them up, to send them to jail and on to prison and then return them again and again for largely offenses having to do with drugs and drug use. And so when the previous caller talked about it's the responsibility of the parolee to conduct themselves in a way that will maintain their freedom, we might ask ourselves, and when they don't, when they do violate a rule, showing up late for appointments, perhaps not noticing the parole agent – not notifying the parole agent when they change address, or when they smoke marijuana or drink too much, what is it that we want to do with them? Do we want to continue sending them back into prison, overcrowding the prisons and costing tens of thousands of dollars a year for each of these infractions? Or is there a different way such as treatment in the community such as that offered by Scott's organization?

CAVANAUGH: Well, that's exactly what I was going to say, Scott, because you have experience in actually dealing with people who are – come out of prison. Can you tell us what – the kind of help these guys need?

SILVERMAN: Sure. You know, I like the idea of alternate sin thing should be an education. I mean, I think that's a proactive way of looking at it. Let's give them an opportunity. You know, and I agree, you know, if we don't prepare them with tools, just like anybody in life, if they don't have the basic tools, they're not going to know how to act. And life skills are certainly not taught in prison. If they are, they're not the kind of skills you need post-release. One of the things that we offer are opportunities, is the housing piece is so critical. They've got to be in an environment where there's not an ability to act out and if they do, there's a consequence, like all of us have to. And they're really coming out in really many way very immature and need the life skills. Not a long time; we do it in 60 to 90 days, with housing. We have a three week training with a two-year follow-up, and the workforce opportun – When you get a job, your whole ego is tied into it. Most of us have it, you know, in one way or another. And when someone's not working, they have idle time. You know, busy hands are happy hands, and we try to keep them busy. We're only able to handle – Our organization, you know, with a budget of $3 million, we can only handle about 400 a year and there's 9,000 parolees coming to San Diego every year. That number's only going to grow. So at the end of the day, the resources we don't have are so huge but the opportunities, I think, are really great. And there's a lot of organizations that could do more even with good guidance, I mean, to be a non-funded partner with the state is just not a good idea anymore. And the state's expecting the communities to pick up the slack on these releasees and, you know what, the resources aren't here. And most people really want a job, most people want a place to live, and most people don't want to get in trouble, and nobody chooses to shoot dope all day long on a conscious basis and kill themselves slowly. Nobody wants that.

CAVANAUGH: We have time for one last quick phone call. Juan is calling from Carlsbad. Good morning, Juan, and welcome to These Days.

JUAN (Caller, Carlsbad): Hi, how are you?

CAVANAUGH: I'm doing fine. How can we help you?

JUAN: Well, I was listening to these two people talking about the prisoners. In order for a person like that to understand prisons – prisoners, you have to be inside the prison or be a prisoner yourself, number one. The second thing it is, the state – the prisoners that are in jail, they want to be in jail, they don't want to be outside. They put theirselves (sic) in that situation. Very fat politicians but they do, they blame it on society what happened to the inmates. Well, the inmates are there because they're wanting to be there. First of all, they know the laws, they know how to defend theirselves, they use the laws of cannabis in a way. They're leeches on society. There is only a very low percentage that they want to get out of prison because I've been there and done that. I became a proactive human being in society. The second thing it is, there is a lot of deficit – there is a lot of ways that they can subsidize the cost if they start using the prisoners for public – for public work. There is a lot of volunteer work that it needs and the state – it is on the state that they don't want to do it. Why? Because there is unions, there is politicians. There is all these people, the north and the south from the state, getting the paycheck from the state and they're not doing the right job.

CAVANAUGH: Juan, let's talk about your…

JUAN: They should start using the prisoners as a tool to subsidize the cost of the state and that way they can feed their own faces. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Juan, let's talk about your first comment, and that is people in prison want to be there. They violated – This says – Juan says this, they violated, they're happier in prison, lots of people don't want to get out, and they're where they should be. And I think, you know, I don't think either of you agree with what he said but I think there are a lot of people who feel that way.

MOBLEY: I'm sure there are a lot of people who feel that way. And I've been in prisons a lot for various reasons and conducting various research projects, doing assessments for the State of California, and interviewing scores and scores of prisoners, and I have yet to meet one who wanted to be there. This – As we said earlier, crime is pervasive in American society. Corporations routinely violate the law. White collar criminals cost us, as a society, much, much more than street crime ever does. Politicians, I mean, you think of the case of Scooter Libby and when President Bush cut his sentence, rescinded his sentence, he said that he thought that the sentence given to Libby at the time was excessive. And so that suggests there are other ways of dealing with lawbreaking besides throwing people into prison at tremendous expense, throwing them into an institution which has been shown to be a cause for the problem it was meant to prevent, that people who go to prison come out less able to live a law abiding life and so one potential solution to our problem would be simply to not send so many people to prison in the first place. When this – When and if this reduction takes place, we'll be at the point where around a third of our prisoners are there doing life sentences. Whether we want to do that or not is something we would have to revisit but as long as we're on that track about sending some people there for the rest of their lives, we certainly need to hold them in the safest, most humane way possible and that means clearing out the people who really we tend to be more angry at than afraid of.

CAVANAUGH: Scott, I'm going to have to give you a very quick last word. What is – Do you know what plans – Are there any plans for how California's going to deal with so many prisoners, parolees not going back if, indeed, this order holds and 40,000 inmates have to be reduced from the prison population?

SILVERMAN: Well, since we have little time, there are no plans. There are no plans that are being discussed. I mean, we talked with Bonnie Dumanis, our District Attorney, you know, SB-618 is a potential solution for a small amount of individuals but, you know, right now, nationally, one in 37 Americans has been bumped into or has been exposed to the judicial system, one in 37. I mean, that is huge when you think about it. The joke, people come to California, you know, on vacation, they leave on probation. We're called the incarceration nation. I mean, we're not given these nicknames around the world because we're doing a good job. We're getting these nicknames and these labels because we're doing it poorly and we're promoting it. And, I mean, this guy Richard Hatch was on this morning with Matt Lauer for ten minutes talking about the – how he got rearrested with his bracelet, and he was arrested because he didn't pay his taxes they say. They took ten minutes to talk about this one guy, getting him out of prison. We have 2.2 million people right now across the country in our state prison systems and, you know, it's not working. No, there is not a plan that I'm aware of and I'm talking directly to the Director and the head of, you know, Department of Corrections, Undersecretary Matt Cate. They don't have a plan post-release because right now they're just trying to figure out how they manage that massive problem of corrections itself. So – And on the scale of all the priorities around our state, you know, ex-offenders, as you mentioned earlier, they're not a high priority because we've got education, got healthcare, the economy itself, families are losing homes, and they're fast becoming the new homeless right now. So…

CAVANAUGH: We're going to have to leave it there. I want to thank my guests Professor Alan Mobley, Professor of Criminal Justice at SDSU, and Scott Silverman, founder, executive director of Second Chance program and the author of "Tell Me No, I Dare You: A Guide to Living a Heroic Life." Thanks, both of you, for coming in.

SILVERMAN: Thank you, Maureen. Appreciate it.

MOBLEY: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And I want to tell everyone who didn't get a chance to talk with us on the air that you can post your comments online, KPBS.org/TheseDays.

Comments

Avatar for user 'citydweller'

citydweller | August 19, 2009 at 11:40 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Given the political dynamics that push the state to ever-harsher criminal law and administration, I welcome the intervention of the Federal Courts. The problem is very complex, but I'm hoping we can use the court order as cover to move in the following ways:
1. Re-orient the prison system from punishment to protection. Incarceration should be reserved for those who represent a threat to others, and only for as long as they do represent a credible threat.
2. Remove from criminal law those statutes designed to protect people from themselves, most notably the War on Drugs. If the Feds feel differently, let them pay for incarceration. California should only think of incarcerating those whose use of or trade in drugs causes them to injure others,
3. Redesign the educational system so that there are alternatives to schooling that manifestly doesn't work for boys in general and minority boys in particular. I may be too far removed from these groups to say what this should look like, but I'm thinking it should be more like work, giving those who choose it a sense of accomplishment, general work skills and perhaps some entry-level skills. Exposure to the world of work would also provide motivation to later obtain academic skills knowing what they are useful for.

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Avatar for user 'Richardhg'

Richardhg | February 4, 2010 at 7:57 p.m. ― 4 years, 7 months ago

Well, we have run out of money and time.

In the 1970's, spurious articles by misguided psychologists encouraged the "law and order" crowd to turn Californian prisons away from rehab, towards harsher punishment.

Now, these chickens are home. California has the highest recidivism rate in the country, a punitive system that creates brutal and anti-social ex-prisoners in an overcrowded and inhumane environment.

The double-whammy is that California is starting to feel the financial crunch in 2010. We knew it was coming, but the California State Legislators figured they could borrow until things got better. :)

Well, the news is, it ain't getting any better for many years. Meanwhile, California is running interference on the Federal court order to cut the overcrowding, instead of resolving the issues.

And what a time to be releasing people who have been brutalized by the State for years in their overcrowded, punitive, inhumane prisons! The only jobs going are burglary, drug dealing and drug running, and organized crime.

But these returnees to the Land of the Free have the training for this market, so don't worry, they will be employed.

Wake up, California!

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