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Court orders California prison population reduction plan in 21 days

April 12, 2013

Advocates push to bring prisoners home

by Emily Harris, Californians United for a Responsible Budget

CURB appeal 041213Sacramento – Yesterday’s ultimatum by the three-judge panel puts Gov. Brown and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on notice to present a plan for further reductions in the state’s unconstitutionally crowded prisons within the next three weeks.

“The propaganda that Gov. Brown and Secretary Beard have been feeding Californians didn’t cut the mustard with the court,” said Misty Rojo, program coordinator for the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. “Conditions inside continue to be terrible, and in women’s prisons the situation is getting worse.”

Advocates who have criticized the governor’s criminal justice realignment plan as inadequate were quick to praise the court decision.

“Realignment itself, no matter how it was implemented, was never going to produce an adequate reduction in the prison population,” said Diana Zuñiga, field organizer for Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “It has been clear for years that a serious solution to the prison crisis would require serious sentencing reforms and changes to parole and compassionate release policies.”

The court ordered the CDCR and governor to “identify prisoners unlikely to re-offend” and reduce the population by 9,000 before the end of the year. The court threatened the governor and other state officials with contempt of court if they fail to comply. Groups led by those who are members of Californians United for a Responsible Budget have worked for years to convince Sacramento to institute common sense changes already in place successfully in other states, including:

  • Expand medical parole, discharge prisoners who are permanently medically incapacitated
  • Use compassionate release for the terminally ill
  • Create parole eligibility for elderly prisoners
  • Expand use of the alternative custody program
  • Parole eligible term-to-life prisoners
  • Reform drug sentencing laws
  • Restore conduct credits for those in SHU and expand credits for others.
Chowchilla Freedom Rally march 'Bring our loved ones home' 012613, web
To ease overcrowding in men’s prisons, prison officials replaced the women in one of what used to be two women’s prisons in Chowchilla with men, bringing the remaining women’s prison to double its capacity. Advocates at the Jan. 26 Chowchilla Freedom Rally demanded that the 4,500 women officially approved for release be freed.
“This is a historic opportunity for the governor,” said Debbie Reyes of the California Prison Moratorium Project.

“Gov. Brown put California on the disastrous road to mass incarceration during his second term in the 1980s. During his current term, he can begin the process of turning California away from a prison-first mindset. The sorts of real changes the court demands will require changes to California’s dysfunctional sentencing laws. Those changes should, as the court suggests, be applied both prospectively and retrospectively.”

“Will Gov. Brown and Secretary Beard continue to dig in their heels to defend an indefensible prison system? Or will they demonstrate that they have the courage, vision and leadership we need to make meaningful changes to our super-sized prison system?” asked Zuñiga.

CURB’s message to advocates: This is one of those game-changing moments

Late yesterday, the three-judge panel overseeing the California prison population cap issued a stinging rebuke to Jerry Brown’s foot dragging and showmanship. They didn’t buy his claim that everything is just fine in California and instead made their most pro-active ruling yet.

In effect, the judges said:

  1. Stop playing games.
  2. Create a list of true prison population reduction strategies,
  3. Do it within 21 days.
Carl Harris reunited with wife Charlene Hamilton after 20 yrs in prison by Mary F. Calvert, NYT
The joy of having dad home at last: Carl Harris rejoins his wife, Charlene Hamilton, and their two daughters after 20 years in prison. – Photo: Mary F. Calvert for The New York Times
This is a huge opportunity – but the administration is going to fight back as hard as ever. It’s an all-hands-on-deck moment: and the most important thing we need to do today is win the media cycle.

Jerry Brown and the rest of the obstructionists aren’t going to spin this just as a policy issue. They’re going to try to scare Californians to death about the fact that people will actually have a chance to come home.

It might be subtle and it might be scandalous, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they are going to try to mobilize fear against the long-overdue reforms we all want.

Please click here now and send a letter to the editor to a paper near you showing our support for the court’s new, more aggressive stance – and for bringing people back to our families and communities.

The court set a tight 21-day timeline for the administration to present a new plan to come into compliance with their order. We’re ready to push the policies we know will work – and there’s no question we’re going to need everyone’s help backing those up.

But first thing first. We absolutely have to control the story on this one. Help us send 100 letters to media outlets up and down the state right now – and make sure our side of the story is told.

Let’s do this!

Emily Harris, who heads Californians United for a Responsible Budget, can be reached at emily@curbprisonspending.org.

 

10 thoughts on “Court orders California prison population reduction plan in 21 days

  1. Claire Phillips

    I suggest that the Court assume the task of “Identifying (9000) prisoners that are unlikely to re-offend.” Make it like the NFL draft, giving the 3 Judges 3000 picks each. We will then set up a website that lists each Judge along with the 3000 prisoners they deemed unlikely to re-offend. Then we track the offenders for the next year and see how they have assimilated back into the community. Actually, Zuniga and Reyes should also be allowed to participate in the draft. What do you say, guys?

    Reply
  2. Chuck J.

    It has to be made clear that there is no such thing as an “early release” for someone with a mandatory minimum. There are people in prison 20-years or more BEYOND their minimums. They need to be freed.

    Reply
  3. Sal Rodriguez

    There are over 12,000 people in California’s prisons there with a primary felony being drug-related. Easy. Release all of them and they should be able to meet the demands of the court.

    But that would make too much sense.

    Reply
  4. Linda Hunter

    Its time the state of California steped up to bat and start identifying the 9000 prisoners. I know of at least one that has been there for years and years for a non violent non drug related crime. Send him home to his wife.

    Reply
  5. tanya walker

    I was released last year on ACP I still have until August of this year before I’m off of the program. I am grateful for this opportunity. Thank you.

    Reply
  6. john edgemon

    he state of cailf needs help the courts are ready to put one in prison just because thay can i was one of them drugs are a bad thing when one gets lost on them but are goverment is and was the one that smuglmented them in to are states just to keep the cia afloot the fbi as will then to make it all right stared putting us in pirson and if you look in pirson most people there are in there behind drugs of one kind or athoer yes are men and woman in calif pirsons need all the help thay can get

    Reply
  7. Mary

    I agree with you john about drugs are bad and maybe the government did smuggle drugs in just to keep whoever afloat, but that is not the big picture here. I also agree with you that more than half the prison population is in there due to one drug or the other. I do not know what put you in prison or how much time you have, but the big picture as I see it is that maybe all of this is not Governor Browns' fault. I do not agree with Gov. Browns manner of handling prison overcrowding, but everyone seems to be missing the fact that Gov. Brown is not the one that sentenced these petty criminals to long years of imprisonment, but it was the Judges that handed down the sentences at the end of the day. I know people who received 25 + 5 just for a second degree burglary, this is ridiculous. That crime carries about 2 – 6 years max and it was non-violent. Why should we the tax payers have to pay for a petty crime for a prisoner for 25 – 30 years for something that they stole which will never be wort the amount that we pay to house them in prison?

    Reply
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