Better Than Releasing People Who Don't Belong in Prison: Not Putting Them There to Begin With

Writing in The Sacramento Bee, Ward Connerly, president of the American Civil Rights Institute, likens early releases aimed at shrinking California's prison population to slightly opening the drain of an overflowing bathtub without turning off the spigot. Connerly blames "laws requiring lengthy prison sentences for nonviolent offenders" and "mindless minimum sentences imposed under the state's 'two-strikes' and 'three-strikes' laws" for flooding California's prisons with people who don't belong there. Regarding a new law that will permit the release of some 6,500 prisoners (out of more than 150,000) during the next year, he observes:

California's secretary of corrections called the law a "win-win situation" because it will cut down on recidivism and allow parole agents to focus attention on more-dangerous former convicts. Sentencing-reform advocates, including Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a nonpartisan advocacy that opposes one-size-fits-all sentencing laws, could only shake their heads at such a statement.

If the secretary is right, then why were these 6,500 people sentenced to such long terms in the first place? Wouldn't it make more sense to assess risk and recidivism factors and make those part of the sentencing calculation? Unfortunately, California's mandatory-sentencing laws prohibit such sensible reckoning.

Over at The Huffington Post, the Drug Policy Alliance's Jill Harris criticizes a front-page New York Times story that claimed efforts like California's, driven largely by "the rush to save money in grim budgetary times," have "unleashed a backlash" from citizens who worry that dangerous criminals are being set free to prey on them and their children. As Harris notes, the Times presented very little evidence that a popular backlash is occurring or that, if it were, it would have any basis in fact.

In a 2008 column I noted that America leads the free world in locking people up.

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  • ||

    I agree.

    ""Connerly blames "laws requiring lengthy prison sentences for nonviolent offenders" and "mindless minimum sentences imposed under the state's 'two-strikes' and 'three-strikes' laws" for flooding California's prisons...""

    But the people of CA got what they wanted. They voted for tough on crime candidates. What did they expect?

    Make room for the bacon-dog street vendors.

  • ||

    Yes, the people of CA did vote for it... but just because people vote does not mean they know WHAT they are voting for.

  • ||

    So the NYT rather than seeing a state actually moderate its justice system sees a "rush to save money"? I guess they pretty much work for the public employee unions now. That whole liberal look out for truth justice and the little guy is just so last year now.

  • Enyap||

    To be fair, it's huffpo critizing them.

  • ||

    Cutting public budgets is the worst thing in the world, John. Worse than Hitler.

  • ||

    That is right. When the dark night of fascism falls on America, it will come in the form of reduced government spending. It is not just fascism. It is genocide.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    Well, of course cutting public budgets is worse than Hitler.

    Hitler never cut a public budget.

  • ||

    ""So the NYT rather than seeing a state actually moderate its justice system sees a "rush to save money"?""

    The state isn't doing it to save money? When they have money, or think they do, they want to build more prisons. Only when they don't have the money are they interested in releasing prisoners.

    What state wants to moderate it's power for moderation sake?

  • ||

    yes but maybe the NYT could also see the advantage of it doing better justice rather than portraying it as a craven state looking to put criminals on the street and (worse still in the NYT's eyes) put public employees out of work.

  • ||

    But it DOES put criminals back on the street. What's wrong with pointing that out?

    It may or may not be better justice. That goes to the individual. After you're cut loose, the choice is yours. You could clean up your act or kill some cops in Seattle. It's not wrong for the NYT to point out either side. Nor would it be wrong for them to take the popular tough on crime stance.

    Even if they are being partisan, who are you to complain about someone else being partisan? If it was sunny outside and the NYTimes said it was sunny, you would have a problem with that.

  • ||

    These "criminals" have done their time and are being released, they are no longer criminals ... the people being released are NON VIOLENT individuals. They are not releasing cop killers, or pedophiles, etc. ... most people don't have a clue what type of inmates are actually being released... they hear "criminals are being released" and then ASSume that murderers, rapist and their ilk are being let go... that is not the case.

  • Russ 2000||

    Recidivism came up in the IL gubernatorial primary. Gov. Quinn was blamed for 56 out of 500 early-release prisoners getting nabbed. And all I could think of was that recidivism rate is BELOW the normal rate which means they did a decent job in picking prisoners to release.

  • ||

    Gov. Quinn was blamed for 56 out of 500 early-release prisoners getting nabbed.

    Hell, at the rate were going, an 11% arrest rate is probably better than the general population.

  • Gene Berkman||

    Good column from Ward Connerly. Glad he has learned about this problem.

    In 1998, Connerly served as Chair of the Dan Lungren for Governor campaign. Lungren's main issue was the need to lock more people up, and his record of locking people up.

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