On July 23, Judges Thelton Henderson and Lawrence Karlton called for the formation of a three-judge panel to develop recommendations to address the issue of overcrowding in California state prisons. The formation of the panel is essentially a no confidence vote in AB 900, the band-aid approach put forward by Gov. Schwarzenegger and the California Legislature. The legislation primarily calls for the construction of the 53,000 new jail cells. Judge Karlton has been widely quoted as saying “From all that presently appears, new beds will not alleviate this problem but will aggravate it.”
Many of the concerned parties are speculating that the recommendation from the three judge panel for reducing the jail population will be to place a cap on the number of inmates that can be incarcerated. Strategies being discussed to meet the anticipated cap include implementing changes in the current parole system, so violators do not return to jail for technical violations; and/or the early release of some inmates.
Citizens should know that further examination of the situation causes concern for local government. There is the possibility that the state may “dump” inmates on counties citing the need to follow the federal decree sent down by the three judge panel. Past experiences show counties have not been fairly compensated for their costs. Essentially, the state would pass their dilemma to the counties, without adequate compensation, or giving the counties the proper amount of time to build the necessary facilities to meet the increased demand, and without additional money for the drug and alcohol programs or other supportive services that the inmates will definitely need.
If inmates are released early, many will have serious mental health issues, and will not be prepared to compete in the Bay Area job market. Many do not have a stable network of family or loved ones that they can count on, all of which may drive them back towards criminal activity in our communities which will have a negative impact on our public safety.
I have always been and will continue to be an advocate for formerly incarcerated people as they struggle to re-enter our communities, but you can’t release people into our neighborhoods without creating a re-entry system that includes a clear roadmap that will help them to succeed in life. If inmates come back to Alameda and other California counties, will there be an assessment of their job skills? Will there be referrals to appropriate mental health and job training programs? These issues and many others must be considered and addressed if a large number of people are to be released to counties from our State penal institutions.
California has a long history of dumping their problems on local communities, many of us can recall the 1980’s when then Gov. Regan closed state mental hospitals and dumped the patients into our neighborhoods without adequate resources or sufficient time to implement a plan. Local government should not be asked to take on the statutory responsibility of the State of California. Local governments and local communities are not dumping grounds.
Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson represents District 5.