Thursday, February 16, 2006

Corrections Official Speaks Out on Importance of Governor's Strategic Growth Plan

Called “Critical to Safety, Welfare of Citizens, Staff, Inmates”

Sacramento - Calling the Governor's Strategic Growth Plan "critical to the safety and welfare of California's citizens, our staff and the inmates who are sentenced and receive services" from prisons and jails, Jeanne Woodford, Undersecretary for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), spoke yesterday at an informational hearing held by the Senate Committee on Public Safety.

Woodford testified that public policy makers, such as legislators, law enforcement and other key constituencies, must plan adequately for the future by taking the necessary steps to expand the capacity of California prisons and jails.

"As has been expressed many times during the last several decades, the public demands that our cities and communities be kept safe by removing violent criminals from our streets," Woodford said. "It is one of our responsibilities to ensure that California has the necessary capacity to house those offenders who create an unsafe environment."

With California's prison population at an all-time high and growing, the 33 existing institutions are running out of space. Woodford estimated that the prison population will be close to 200,000 by 2020, but cautioned that the projections are very conservative, reflecting an annual growth rate of 1.2 percent over 14 years. The prison population, however, increased 2.4 percent in 2005.

"It is not enough to just build capacity, but we must be smart about how we plan," Woodford stressed. She emphasized that the Governor's plan will provide partnerships between counties and the State. County jails built under the plan would provide additional capacity dedicated to housing state prison inmates. These partnerships will address the more than 5,000 inmates who typically spend fewer than 90 days in prison as well as about 62,000 parole violators or parolees pending revocation.

The Governor's plan proposes that inmates be returned to county jail for the last 90 days of their sentence. While there, they would be provided with re-entry planning and services prior to release.

"The most critical time for inmates leaving prison is from the time of release through the first six months," Woodford said. By focusing efforts at this critical time, it would increase the likelihood that parolees will not re-offend and will prevent additional victimization of citizens.

Woodford stressed that the Governor's plan provides an essential public policy model for California by providing a more cost-effective model for housing inmates in the short-term, by providing greater collaboration between county and state law enforcement agencies, and by providing the framework for an effective re-entry model. In addition to providing the county-state partnership, the increased jail and prison capacity would free more prison space and allow the expansion of rehabilitation programs.