California Gov. Jerry Brown argues that Jeffrey Beard is uniquely suited to run the state prison system. Now, says the East Bay Express, some prison reform activists who monitored Beard’s work in Pennsylvania when he ran that state’s Department of Corrections from 2001 to 2010 say his record on prison expansion and overcrowding should be cause for concern in California. Sarah Morris of Decarcerate PA, which campaigns against expanding Pennsylvania’s prison system, is skeptical about Beard’s chances of bringing about much change if he runs the prison system in the same way he did in Pennsylvania. “I wouldn’t expect anything that’s creative or thinking out of the box or really challenging the status quo,” she said.
Morris cited Beard’s record on overcrowding. In 2008, the prison system in Pennsylvania reached 117 percent of capacity. The immediate cause of the overcrowding was a three-month parole moratorium ordered by the governor as a response to the killing of a Philadelphia police officer by a parolee. With more people being sent to prison and fewer getting out, the population inside rose dramatically. Activists like Morris would have liked to see Beard challenge Pennsylvania lawmakers to reconsider minimum sentences as a way to reduce overcrowding. “It was a moment when he could have pushed back,” she said, “and pushed the legislature to reexamine the parole moratorium, and reexamine our harsh sentencing laws.” In California, several groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, are urging Beard to do just that. They’re encouraged by statements Beard made near the end of his time in Pennsylvania when he criticized the state’s “heavy reliance” on incarceration and told legislators that the approach of “‘locking them up and throwing away the key’ does not solve the underlying problem.”