Mike Males over at the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice has insight into the “mammoth growth in prisoners age 55 and older, from 7,000 in 1979 to 33,000 in 1995 and 124,000 by 2010.” Usually, Males writes, those in the criminal justice reform community attribute the rise to punitive policies that keep people in prison for a long time, like Three Strikes and mandatory sentencing. But, Males says, a new Human Rights Watch report inadvertently sheds light on a different culprit:
Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice
By Nicole Jones
The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco released a report this week that shows California counties have the capacity to implement Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to eliminate the state’s youth prison system.
Brown announced his plans in January to eventually fade out the Division of Juvenile Justice system by 2014. The proposal would have counties share $10 million to develop local alternatives to housing youth in state facilities. But it’s raised some concerns from counties and law enforcement, saying they lack adequate secure juvenile placement facilities for high-risk youth offenders the DiJJ currently serves.
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.
In 2012, a big shift will hit California’s electoral system: open primaries. Open primaries, brought in by voters through 2010′s Proposition 14, will allow the top two vote-getters in any primary for state office to advance to the general election, which means we could see districts with two Republicans or two Democrats competing in a general election. California’s biggest lobbying groups, among them some of the biggest law enforcement groups in the country, are grappling with what this new system will mean to them, in a state that’s undergoing a shift in how the public views our traditionally tough-on-crime approach. I sat down with Sasha Abramsky, a reporter for the Nation, Rolling Stone, and other publications, to talk about how this change might play out. Abramsky published a report earlier this week with the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice called “Sacramento’s K-Street Lobbyists: The criminal justice inner circle.” In that piece, Abramsky analyzed the influence of California’s largest criminal justice lobbys, like the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), and how they’re approaching this shift in electoral politics.
California has what one might call a “pressing problem” when it comes to the prison system. In May, the US Supreme Court confirmed a lower court’s conclusion that California’s prison system is so overcrowded that inmates are being held in conditions that violate the 8th Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. So the state was told to do something about this overcrowding, and fast.
Basically, by the end of June, 2013, the state will have to reduce its prison population from 144,000 inmates to 110,000 inmates. How? California, led by Governor Jerry Brown, has a plan: move supervision and incarceration of lower-level felons to the counties. That plan goes into action on October 1 of this year. Realignment is set to drastically change the way we do criminal justice in California. Here’s why.
When Governor Jerry Brown proposed sending 30-40,000 prison inmates back to county jails to help free up space in California’s overcrowded prisons and save the state some cash, he encountered a good deal of resistance.
The state, counties said, would have to pay for these new responsibilities. ”Otherwise they’re just shifting their problems down to counties,” Allan Krauter of the Kern County Administrative Office told KERO, the local ABC affiliate. ”We’re willing to help, but as equal partners, not as victims of this whole thing.”
The “victim” message echoed in a lot of counties after Brown’s announcement and eventually contributed to the governor backing down a bit on the “realignment” of prison services. But the blame game is a tough one in this debate over who’s responsible for California’s jam-packed, expensive prison system. Why? Because while it may be a popular line to credit the state for the large number of people in prison, the truth of the matter is that counties sent all those inmates there–and some, like Kern County, sent more than others.
Earlier this month, Governor Jerry Brown proposed some dramatic changes to close the state’s $28 billion budget gap. One was shutting down the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), California’s youth correctional system. The DJJ has been the subject of lawsuits and public outcry for years. So some prison reformers are celebrating the potential closure. Others doubt the plan will work. But everyone agrees it’s time we reexamine a fundamental societal question – when kids get in trouble, even when they commit horrible crimes, what should we do with them?
This piece ran on our nightly news program, Crosscurrents, last night. Audio above and transcript after the jump.