Wake Up California: It’s Time to Get Real About Criminal Justice Reform

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

The "Prison Population and Budget Reduction Package" proposed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is like a drunk person walking home from a bar — it knows where it wants to go but oftentimes you find it stumbling off the sidewalk or turning down the wrong street.Since we believe budget cutting is no small feat and should be taken very seriously, especially in the wake of the prison riots in Chino and public safety needs, we've decided to pour the CDCR a strong cup of coffee and see if we can't point the plan in a better direction.

The People's Budget Fix, as we've named it, responds to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's $1.2 billion in unallocated cuts to the corrections budget with a series of smart reforms to save the state billions of dollars, improve public safety, and advance long-needed adjustments in California's Corrections system. Here's an outline of some of the ways the CDCR's budget proposal goes wrong and how we can do better.

Step 1: Reserve Prison for Serious Offenses

  • Convert MORE Petty Offenses to Misdemeanors: The CDCR identified only four out of 73 low-level, nonviolent "wobblers" (offenses that can be treated as felonies or misdemeanors) to convert to misdemeanor offenses.That's a good start but is not enough to save the $700 million annually that the Legislative Analyst's Office predicts will come from converting more petty offenses.Nonviolent property crimes such as forgery, embezzlement, and vandalism should not result in expensive prison sentences
  • Keep Response to Petty Drug Offenses Local: California prisons are packed with low-level drug offenders, causing a significant drain on the state's criminal justice system. People convicted of simple drug possession should be handled at the county level through community service, treatment, probation or some combination, saving $1 billion annually.
  • Respond to Youth Offenders Closer to Home: The Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has an astronomical recidivism rate of 72 percent and an annual budget of $436 million.We need to close these wasteful and ineffective youth prisons. Youth currently housed in DJJ prisons should be diverted to county custody and half the DJJ budget should be used to support effective local treatment programs, still allowing a net savings of more than $200 million annually.

Step 2: Focus Resources on Recidivism-Reduction

  • Maintain Effective Programs: The CDCR plans to eliminate $175 million in existing programs that aim to alleviate the state's recidivism problem. Sending people from prison to the streets without any preparation or support is a recipe for failure. Programs such as substance abuse counseling, vocational training, and education are vital to the inmates' ability to prepare for life on the outside — these programs should be protected, not cut.
  • Limit GPS Monitoring to High-Risk Offenders: The CDCR has proposed placing low-risk inmates, such as the medically infirm and elderly, in the community, but require that they wear GPS monitoring devices.While we support moving these inmates out of costly prison cells, GPS monitoring is unnecessary for these low-risk inmates and a waste of state money. Research has shown that GPS monitoring is costly and should be reserved for higher-risk offenders.
  • Enhance Plans for Risk-Based Parole Supervision: The CDCR is on the right track in saying that parole should be for violent and sex offenders and those considered high-risk. It makes sense to place moderate risk/nonviolent offenders on administrative parole.We need to go further, ending the administrative parole after one clean year. Just eliminating parole for drug possession would reduce the population by 25 percent and save $135 million annually.

Step 3: Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform

The People's Budget Fix is indeed a sobering cup of coffee, opening our eyes to what smart and sensible criminal justice reforms can do to help save our state more money, improve public safety, and begin reforming our ailing prison system. But we can't stop there.

The People's Budget Fix also calls upon the governor and the California legislature to go beyond the immediate fixes identified above and strive for lasting budget reforms. We must delve deeper into the sobering realities of our criminal justices system and its failures. We need a balanced sentencing commission to take the politics out of the public safety debate and put the people back in. And we need to address two costly and ineffective areas of our criminal justice system: the death penalty and California's Three Strikes law. Both of these policies cost that state billions of dollars in prison spending and court costs with no demonstrable returns for public safety. It is time for California to limit Three Strikes to violent offenses and replace the death penalty with effective alternatives that promote public safety.

On August 18, when the governor and the legislature return to Sacramento to begin discussions of the Corrections' budget, we plan to be there to rally for the People's Budget Fix and to meet with Legislatures to discuss our proposals.We hope our proposals help our political leaders see straight and get us all home safely.

The People's Budget Fix is supported by Drug Policy Alliance, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Families Amend California's Three Strikes, and the ACLU California affiliates.

Add a comment (21)
Read the Terms of Use




I would like to see some attention directed to the individuals who aer serving "life sentences" with the possibility of parole. Emphasis is placed on those who are most likely to return to prison and how that can be solved. In my opinion the population most prepared for release are "lifers' who have been mandated to recieved vocational training, life skills, self help and many have advanced their educations to hold various degrees, actively participated in the rehabilitative process and have the hope of release always before then. Some of these individuals have gone before the Board that reviews their suitability for parole and are actually found suitable (a feat not very easy to accomplish) only to have the Boards decision reversed by a Gov. who has declared a "state of emergency". Something is deathly wrong. This is a population of people that are most equipped to succeed once released and studies show they recidivate less than 1% of the time. Rehabilitative efforts should be mandatory for all in prison and for those who have done the steps should be released. If there is no possibility for parole, the state should stop lying to those who are sentenced that way. Lifers should be considered for release and included in this huge plan for reform.

Ron S

OH MY Father GOD, in heaven, grant me the strenght to fight these idiots from the ACLU and stand up for you and what I and 80 percent of americans know is right and believe in. Grant me the power and skill so that if approached by any of these idiots I may be a good marksman and hit my target, for we all know that anyone associated with the ACLU should be shot and their bodies hung from trees to rot.


The whole corrections system in this nation needs reforms top to bottom, bottom to top. With accountability to the state, county, government and the common people. Even the very prisoners themselves should have the freedom and safety to complain of and report injustices they see from within without fear of what could be done to them in vindication from those that are put in control of them the CDC and the Wardens also.
3 strikes law needs to be struck out itself. And all striker's re-sentenced according to what is fair and just and constitutional, not prejudiced. In America,with Liberty and Justice for all! Civil rights even if you are in a jail or prison. Inmates are still human and deserve to be treated humanely.Ultimate accountability is to God and we all have a part in it even if it is in voting and supporting individuals and groups for our civil rights.

Diane T.

I pity Ron S. He would change his tune if his relative was doing 25-Life for something that they should do no more than a year for? He probably is one of those too stupid understand "The health Reform" fight that is out of control (just like 3 Strikes). He is the one that should be strung up on a tree for being so unaware, taking up space and breathing good air that someone else could be using. So There11111111


Ron didn't Jesus teach'do unto others as you would have others done on to you.


These people are in jail for a reason. How do you know what they were convicted of. Just because you have 1 or 2 that maybe should not be in jail because they were innocent (but tried by a jury of their peers), if you asked all inmates you would probably get the same I'm innocent answer.

Jail is not suppose to be a picnic nor should it be a torture den. Ask a victims family if 25 to life is fair.

What about the civil rights of all the other citizens in this country? Why don't we release them all, then the state gets to save all of its money.


Here's my message,so listen well.Did sixteen months for a for a criminal threat,first termer released 1/28/08,attended all classes mandated by the parole board,was told by one of my four parole agents that i would be off parole in thirteen mos because i had no new violations,and had completed all that was asked of me.Five days before my discharge my home was searched by parole & county gangsters,i was rearrested for having a NINTENDO DUCK HUNTER GAME GUN,WHICH HAD THE 3FT BLACK CORD REMOVED AFTER IT WAS TAKEN FROM MY HOME! VIOLATED!!!!! 21 days later and a c.o.p for another year.So Ron,be careful what you write,some call it a threat! VIOLATOR.


Wake-up!Cali,we all know that parole runs are justice system,so you release 27,000 inmates,within six months time are three strikes law will not only replace the ones you let go,and then justify their actions by saying our community is at risk.look most C.O's who work for cdcr only have high school diplomas but make over 100k a year,HELLO!,wonder where your rehabilitions dollars are going.Far be it from me to say TOYS!!!!.See ya on the new car lot.V

M. Coleman

People are people. No matter what position you are in: victim or prisoner, liberal or conservative, believe in God or not.
I am a victim.
I have two loved ones incarcerated.
I lean to the left but will listen to what the right has to say.
I believe that any one who wishes death on anyone should not claim to believe in God.
Prison should be a rehabilitative institution.
Victimless crimes should not end in incarceration.
Money should be spent wisely.


Sign Up for Breaking News