Until California eases prison overcrowding, it can’t slow the revolving prison doors that return 70 percent of freed inmates within a year, national experts reported to the state legislature. The Los Angeles Times says their analysis of why California is among the nation’s worst at keeping ex-convicts out of prison concludes that jam-packed conditions prevent prison officials from offering drug and alcohol addiction treatment, anger management classes, and job training – steps to help keep felons from committing more crimes.
The 16-member panel of rehabilitation experts faults California for giving prisoners and parolees little incentive to behave. They recommend that wardens subtract time from the sentences of compliant inmates. They suggest using nominal payments – such as the 8 to 95 cents an hour inmates can earn for working – to encourage people to complete classes, as well as offering expanded family visiting privileges, long-distance phone calls, and vouchers at prison stores as rewards. “There are very few incentives, so inmates and parolees who participate in programs don’t necessarily get out earlier or get off parole earlier, and that’s unlike many other states,” said panel co-chairperson Joan Petersilia, director of the Center for Evidence-Based Corrections at UC Irvine. Authors of the report include current and former officials of prison systems in Ohio, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Washington state; James Gomez, who oversaw California prisons in the 1990s; Mark Carey, president of the American Probation and Parole Association; and several academic researchers.