Thursday, January 26, 2006

Providing Public Safety for Future Generations

Governor’s Strategic Growth Plan Delivers

Sacramento -The Governor's Strategic Growth Plan and the portion that deals with public safety is "critical to the safety and welfare of our citizens and our staff," officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told the Assembly Public Safety Committee today.

Citing the need to keep Californians safe from convicted felons, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Undersecretary Jeanne Woodford and the Governor's Public Safety Liaison Les Weidman testified in support of AB1833 (Arambula), the measure that will implement the portion of the Governor's plan which funds increased capacity in county jails and state prisons.

"This bond is critical to the safety and welfare of our citizens, our staff, and the inmates that are sentenced to and receive services from our jails and our prisons," said Woodford. She pointed out that the state's current prison population is nearly 168,000 inmates and is projected to reach 180,000 by 2010 and 190,000 by 2015.

Currently the Department uses "non-traditional" housing to deal with overcrowding including placing inmates in triple bunks in gyms, day rooms and hallways.

"I cannot stress enough how volatile this situation can be, and how this affects the ability of staff to maintain the safety and security of our institutions," Woodford said. "By placing inmates in spaces not designed for housing, we place our staff at greater risk."

The citizens of California must be assured that we, as public policy makers, are planning adequately for the future by taking the necessary steps to expand the capacity of our jails and prisons Weidman noted. "The public demands that the state and counties work together to provide public safety," he said.

The state population is projected to reach roughly 46 million people by 2020 and that in turn will put pressure on county jails and state prisons, Weidman said. Like all the other parts of the Governor's Strategic Growth Plan, the public safety portion recognizes the pressure the state's population growth puts on California's infrastructure, including jails and prisons.

"It is one of our responsibilities to ensure that we have the necessary capacity to house those offenders who create an unsafe environment for our communities," said Woodford. "But it is not enough to just build capacity the way we have done in the past. We must be smart about how we plan for and utilize our new capacity."

This plan will create a partnership between county and state correctional systems to better provide for public safety by providing additional capacity for county jail inmates and the state's short-term parole violators. It also includes plans to better share information about inmates between counties and state prisons.

Currently, more than 5,000 inmates each year spend less than 90 days in state prison - many because of the time they served in county jails prior to sentencing to state prison, Woodford noted.

Each year, the department houses 62,000 parole violators or parolees pending revocation. These short-term inmates are processed through reception centers and then sent to "mainline" prisons and then almost immediately released back to the county from which they came, she said.

"I believe the most essential part of the Governor's Strategic Growth Plan as it pertains to our jails and our prisons is that it will provide for partnerships between counties and the state, and that we will be more thoughtful in the way we house prisoners," she said.

The Governor's plan provides an essential public policy model for California through three primary goals:

  • It provides a more cost-effective model for housing short-term inmates which includes the sharing of information produced by the counties;
  • It provides greater collaboration between county and state law enforcement agencies, which is essential to the safety of the state's communities;
  • It provides the framework for an effective reentry model, through collaboration with local law enforcement, state parole agents, and social sector partners, which will reduce the likelihood of re-offending by parolees.
The Governor's Strategic Growth Plan would put inmates in county jails for the last 90 days of their sentence and during that time, state parole agents would be able to meet with the inmates before they parole to finalize their parole plans; local law enforcement officials could meet with them as well and make sure those required to register (such as sex offenders and gang offenders) would in fact register with local law enforcement; and social welfare partners could meet with them to help find housing and jobs for them before they are released.

"I believe our plans under the Governor's Strategic Growth Plan provide a strong partnership between counties, communities and the state," said Woodford.