CA Prison Reform Hamstrung by Tough Sentence Laws, Recidivism


California’s effort to shift tens of thousands of inmates out of chronically overcrowded prisons to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling could be undone by the state’s tough sentencing laws, persistent recidivism and recurring budget crises, analysts tell the Los Angeles Times. More than 33,000 offenders must be moved out of prisons, but without sweeping policy changes, the state will still send high numbers of offenders to prison under “three-strikes” sentencing laws, put 70 percent of parolees back behind bars for violations within three years of their release and keep ambitious prison construction plans on hold for lack of money.

“I think [ ] eventually we will have the same problem,” said Michael Bien, whose law firm launched a 1990 case addressing poor mental health care in California prisons that led to Monday’s ruling. More than 40,000 prisoners, about one in four, are serving extended sentences for second and third offenses that are punished more severely under the three-strikes law than the crimes would warrant as a first offense. With many sentenced to at least 25 years, the state has created a long-term population problem, said Michael Romano, head of a Stanford Law School program focused on the three-strikes law. “The most egregious part of the three-strikes law, and what is contributing to the prison overcrowding and financial strains, are the people serving life for minor crimes,” Romano said.

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