By Joaquin Palomino
A life sentence with the possibility of parole is one of the only sentences in California designed to encourage the convicted to reform. Lindsey Bolar, who served 23 years in prison before receiving parole, believes “lifers make up your best population in prison.” After serving between 20 and 25 years, Bolar says, “you know that the mad stupid stuff doesn’t go anymore, then all of a sudden you are trying to find a meaning for your life and you want to go home.”
The system seems to work. Only around one percent of lifers return to prison after being released, and almost never for another violent crime. Still, for the past three decades, it has been nearly impossible to be paroled. The reasons have less to do with public safety than politics. In the second segment of a three-part series, we look at the political chutes and ladders of California’s parole process. KALW’s Joaquin Palomino has the story.
By Joaquin Palomino
When you look at the numbers, many long held truths about crime crumble. Like this one: who do you think is more likely to become a life-long criminal: a rapist or a car thief?
It turns out those who commit the most serious crimes actually re-offend at lower rates. Murderers have the lowest recidivism rate out of any California prisoner. Why is that? Over the next couple days, we’ll spend time talking about a population called “Lifers.” They’re inmates, usually convicted of murder, who’ve been sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. In the first part, KALW’s Joaquin Palomino explores why lifers are so different than other inmates.
Ackerman Gruber Images
By Nicole Jones
The number of incarcerated Americans who are over the age of 65 grew by more than 90 times the rate of the total prison population from 2007-2010, according to a report released last Friday by Human Rights Watch. Across the country, the number of older inmates increased by 63 percent while the number of all inmates rose by just .07 percent. California inmates over the age of 50 increased from 4 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2010.
The average national annual healthcare cost per prisoner is $5,482. But for prisoners aged 55-59 it’s closer to $11,000, and for prisoners age 80 or over, $40,000.
Almost a year after seemingly giving up on the idea, Governor Jerry Brown again announced that he’ll close the Division of Juvenile Justice, California’s youth prison system. The DJJ, known as the California Youth Authority (CYA) until a lawsuit prompted a system overhaul and inspired a corresponding name change, is slated for gradual shutdown starting this year, according to Brown’s proposed budget.
As with much conventional wisdom on crime and punishment, popular notions of what actually causes recidivism–people cycling repeatedly in and out of prison–don’t hold up when you look at the statistics. California’s latest report analyzing its notoriously high (currently 65 percent) recidivism rate contains an array of numerical nuggets that shed new light on the cycle of crime. A sampling:
- Who’s more likely to end up back in prison, a rapist or a thief? Turns out, those who commit less serious crimes are actually more likely to reoffend than those who commit more serious crimes. Those who commit vehicle theft, at 73.4 percent, register the highest recidivism rate. Meanwhile, people who commit more serious offenses like murder and kidnapping, while perceived as having intractable criminality, have the lowest recidivism rates.
- Women are less likely than men to recidivate–by about 11 percentage points. For those who do return to prison one or more times, however, the gender gap shrinks.
- Recidivism decreases drastically with age. While 75.7 percent of released felons in the 18-19-year-old range returned to prison within 3 years, 46.3 of those 60 years and older did so.
Find the full report here.
Yesterday, officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation travelled to Chowchilla in the Central Valley to talk to locals about the pending conversion of Valley State Prison for Women into a men’s facility. Chowchilla, the closest town to two of the state’s three women’s prisons, has resisted the conversion, worried about the impact of bringing in thousands of male prisoners. CDCR, meanwhile, says that under realignment, the female prison population will drop so much that they won’t need all three women’s prisons. Joshua Emerson Smith covers Chowchilla as part of his job as a McClatchy Reporter with Merced Sun Star and Chowchilla News. Emerson Smith was at yesterday’s meeting and we checked in with him to find out what went down. You can also read his report on the meeting here.
The previous year was a huge one for criminal justice in California, and 2012 promises to be just as dramatic. This year we’ll see the continued fallout of California’s prison overcrowding crisis, which coupled with the state’s financial crisis, is opening the doors to reforms never thought possible in our state. Here are three big issues to watch this coming year.