More than half of California inmates are behind bars for violating parole, reports the Associated Press. More than 82 percent of returned parolees are imprisoned for under one year for such minor violations as public drunkenness, driving more than 50 miles from home, or driving with a suspended license.
Returning so many parolees for such short sentences accounts for more than 20 percent of the state’s prison spending, which has exceeded its budget by $1.58 billion over the past five years, the AP says. The percentage of parolees in the state’s prisons is eight times higher than that of Texas, which has nearly as many inmates as California.
Officials say revoking parole in administrative hearings can buy time for prosecutors to build stronger cases. “It’s a safety net,” said Bill Sessa, a spokesman for the Board of Prison Terms, the agency responsible for parole revocation proceedings. California’s percentage of revoked parolees behind bars is more than double that of the six next-largest states. In Texas, fewer than 8 percent of the prisoners are revoked parolees. Only Illinois, New York, and Ohio have double-digit percentages. Gail Hughes, executive director of the Association of Paroling Authorities International, said California’s returning so many ex-convicts to prison is unusual. The AP said that California returned 85,551 parole violators to prison in 2002, resulting in costs of almost $1.1 billion, or 21.6 percent of the corrections budget. The year before, 88,806 parole violators were returned at a cost estimated to be $1.13 billion, or 24.2 percent of that year’s budget.
In another developoment, former California Gov. George Deukmejian will lead an investigation of California’s prison system. The Los Angeles Times says that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked a panel to recommend by June 1 ways to revamp the youth and adult penal system, from closure of prisons to eliminating a “code of silence” that can block investigations of guard misconduct. “Go find out how to make this the best system in the country,” the governor was quoted by a panel as saying. Joseph Gunn will serve as executive director.
The Times says that next to a budget shortfall, the prison system is Schwarzenegger’s most urgent problem. In January, a federal report said that the system is plagued by a code of silence that protects rogue guards and corrupts recruits. Last month, state-hired experts condemned the Youth Authority, which oversees teenage offenders, as a decrepit, violent system.
Gunn, a former executive director of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, advised the LAPD after the 1999 Rampart scandal on ways to overhaul its culture, ethics and organization. He will be joined by George Camp, former director of the Missouri Department of Corrections and a national criminal justice consultant, and Robin Dezember, who served as deputy director of corrections under Deukmejian. The Republican Deukmejian, governor from 1983 to 1991, presided over a doubling of the number of prisons, while the number of inmates grew from 40,000 to more than 100,000. Schwarzenegger is concerned “that the Youth Authority is set up for the 1950s and not the 2000s, and maybe they have to be brought up to modern times,” Gunn said.