Transcript: Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s Q&A with LAO analyst Drew Soderborg on the increase in California’s prison population before the Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment on Oct. 21, 2013

Partial transcript of Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s (D-San Francisco) Q&A with Drew Soderborg, Managing Principal Analyst, Corrections, Transportation, and Environment, at the Legislative Analyst’s Office, on the contributing factors to the increase and decline in California’s prison population. The hearing before the Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment was held on Oct. 21, 2013:

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
Thank you. I’ll start off, if you don’t mind. In terms of the Three Strikes, do we have a ballpark about how many inmates are serving?

Drew Soderborg, Managing Principal Analyst, Corrections, Transportation, and Environment, at the Legislative Analyst’s Office:
Yeah. Right now, there are about 8,000 inmates that are serving a third strike sentence. So about 8,000 inmates that are serving life with the possibility of parole. And about 34,000 inmates that are serving a second strike sentence.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
Do you have any idea about how many have been released after the Three Strikes reform initiative passed last year?

Drew Soderborg, Managing Principal Analyst, Corrections, Transportation, and Environment, at the Legislative Analyst’s Office:
As of August 2013, about 1,000 have been released.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
And – not to throw you a hard ball – but effective do you think Realignment has been in reducing the parole population.

Drew Soderborg, Managing Principal Analyst, Corrections, Transportation, and Environment, at the Legislative Analyst’s Office:
Realignment has been very effective at reducing the parole population. It’s gone down significantly. So the day Realignment was implemented, there are about 105,000 individuals on parole. Currently, there are about 50,000 on parole, which is a reduction of about 53%.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
Do most other states impose a parole term after a sentence has been completed?

Drew Soderborg, Managing Principal Analyst, Corrections, Transportation, and Environment, at the Legislative Analyst’s Office:
Prior to Realignment, California was alone in the nation in requiring virtually everybody released from prison to have a parole tail. After Realignment, some of the individuals released from prison are supervised by parole, others are supervised by county under post-release community supervision, which is functionally very similar to parole.

Now, one thing that is notable, however, is that Realignment did make some felonies eligible for county jurisdictions. So those offenders go into a county jail or a county split sentence. And once those offenders have completed their sentence, they are not supervised in the community following their serving that sentence. Prior to Realignment, those individuals would have come to state prison and would have been supervised on parole following their sentence.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
In terms of Realignment too, I would guess there’s a piece that’s management-focused – how we manage who’s going to be released, et cetera, and all that has to be taken into consideration too when we’re evaluating.

My last question is, since a lot of these things are through the ballot, then we are restricted as a legislature. That’s sometimes frustrating, of course. If we wanted to provide legislation, it looks like we are restricted, though, because a lot of these are voter-approved. I mean, it seems obvious but I wanted to hear your thoughts on that.

Drew Soderborg, Managing Principal Analyst, Corrections, Transportation, and Environment, at the Legislative Analyst’s Office:
Sure, there are definitely some that are voter-approved, like the Three Strikes law. However, in that case, the legislature could vote to put modifications on the ballot and seek modification that way.

However, it’s important to note there are a significant number of more minor sentencing changes that have accumulated over the years that the legislature could change with direct action.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
You mentioned split sentencing. Do you have other ideas that might be viable options to reducing?

Drew Soderborg, Managing Principal Analyst, Corrections, Transportation, and Environment, at the Legislative Analyst’s Office:
Well, at this point, if we’re talking about reducing the prison population to comply with the federal three-judge panel limit. To comply with the January limit, the state’s options are really pretty limited. Really the state could only rely on additional contracts or some form of early release because of the time frame involved.

Now, if the state has more time frame to work with either because of an order of the court or a settlement with the plaintiffs, the number of options would multiply significantly.

It’s also important to note that when I mentioned contracting or early releases – the few options that would get us to the population by the deadline – both of those options are really short-term in nature and even taking those options the state would need to consider other long-term changes to stay in permanent compliance with the limit.

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