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California parole policy change pushed July 17, 2007

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Panel to urge that fewer violators be returned to prison

Seeking to free up space for inmate rehabilitation, a state panel reviewing prison school and job-training programs will recommend that California stop re-incarcerating some low-risk parole violators, the group’s chairwoman said Tuesday.

The panel chairwoman, Joan Petersilia, a consultant to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration on prison rehabilitation policy, said the proposed change would reduce the state’s prison population by as many as 5,000 to 7,000 inmates over the next year and make more room for inmates who would get more out of the programs.

“We need to stop systematically sending low-risk parole violators back to prison,” Petersilia said in her testimony at the inaugural meeting of the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board.

Petersilia said offenders who only violate technical terms of their release, such as missing meetings with their parole agents, should be directed to community programs outside the prison system.

“We don’t want those people going back,” she said.

Petersilia is the chairwoman of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Expert Panel on Recidivism Reduction. The panel was created in last year’s budget to assess the prison system’s educational, vocational, drug and other programs designed to redirect the lives of the state’s 172,727 inmates.

Her testimony Monday highlighted the first meeting of the rehabilitation oversight board that was established under this year’s $7.9 billion prison construction package. The board is charged with making sure that the state incorporates rehabilitation into the fabric of the prison system.

Petersilia said the panel will forward the full list of its recommendations today to Schwarzenegger. They will also be sent to the Legislature by the end of the month. Copies of the panel’s report were not available Tuesday.

At least one of its recommendations has already been put into practice, however. Marisela Montes, the corrections agency’s chief deputy secretary for adult programs, told the oversight board that a pilot program to assess the rehabilitation needs of inmates, as well as the risks they present to society, got under way last week at four reception centers for incoming offenders.

“The goal is to ensure that we get the right inmate into the right program,” Montes said in an interview.

The oversight board is scheduled to meet quarterly and report to the governor and the Legislature twice a year on the status of prison rehabilitation programs.

Matt Cate, the inspector general over the prison system and chairman of the oversight board, said in an interview he wants his group “to hold Corrections accountable for actually making progress” in improving its rehabilitation effort.

“It’s a way of making sure they get traction and that the community knows, that the taxpayers know, they are moving forward in this area — finally,” Cate said.

Petersilia said while her panel found that some of the state’s prison rehabilitation programs are “incredibly good,” it also determined that they can’t be sustained or expanded amid the prison system’s seriously overcrowded conditions. Inmates are living in spaces designed for about half the current population.

The prison construction bill included money for 16,000 re-entry beds for short-term inmates, including parole violators. The locally based prisons are due to come on line over the next 18 months or so.

But even the re-entry space, Petersilia said, shouldn’t be used to house technical parole violators. Offenders who only violate the technical terms of their release — but don’t commit new crimes — shouldn’t be returned to prison, according to Petersilia. Instead, they need to be put on “a separate track” in community programs with intermediate sanctions, she said.




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