Transcript: Public comments at the Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment hearing on Oct. 21, 2013

Partial transcript of public comments at the hearing before the Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment on Oct. 21, 2013:

Commenter #1:
Kim Horiuchi with the ACLU of California. I rise only to let you know the ACLU of California is extremely well-versed in a lot of these issues. My project, the Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Project, is staffed almost entirely by people with extremely experienced and a good deal of expertise in issues of corrections and sentencing reforms. So we want to offer the full range of our services to this committee. We have no shortage of ideas about how to begin to address the overcrowding problem. Also we have a good deal of data, polling on how the public is reacting to a lot of these issues. And I want to encourage you by saying that there’s vast public support for a lot of substantive sentencing changes in California, some of which may end up going in the way of initiatives because much of it has been unsuccessful in the legislature and I encourage you to be a part of that dialogue and work with not only the ACLU and other groups to try and address to try to address the underlying issues.

Commenter #2:
Vanessa Nelson-Sloan from the Life Support Alliance. We are a prisoner advocacy group that deals specifically with life-term inmates. Life-term inmates recidivate at less than 1%, which is far less than the general population. We would encourage you to take a look at a bill that follows along the lines of SB 260 that was recently passed wherein the parole board was directed to give great weight to the hallmark characteristics of youths in considering parole. We urge you to take a look at this in the opposite direction and direct them to give great weight to the fact that recidivism rates drop dramatically after the age of 55 and plummet after the age of 60. This is something we think could have a considerable impact on the prison population and the health care issues here.

Commenter #3:
Good morning. My name is Emily Harris, and I’m the statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget. And we would also be really excited to work with this committee on some of the long-term solutions to reducing overcrowding in the prison system, and we believe the only sustainable way to do that is to actually reduce the number of people that we lock up and hope that we won’t continue to be expanding the system, shuffling people out of state, expanding the county jails. And we pulled together a packet of information…that include a review and a critique of justice reinvestments done by a series of experts, including Jim Austin, who’s one of the population experts that testified in the court hearing that Mr. Specter was speaking about earlier, talking about how many states have looked at justice reinvestment initiatives that have ended up with incredibly low results with incredibly low aims, and part of that being that they haven’t looked at actual significant reductions in the populations…And also a series of recommendations around how we believe the population could be reduced, which include some of the ideas that came out today around parole eligibility for the elderly, paroling eligible lifers, expanding medical parole. And so there are some data in here in terms of anticipated savings, the number of people that are locked up in CDCR that would be eligible…

Commenter #4:
Dawn Koepke with McHugh, Koepke and Associates on behalf of Crime Victims United of California, also the Child Abuse Prevention Center, and the California Council for Adult Education, and California Adult Education Administrators Association. All coming at these issues from a slightly different perspective but certainly inter-related. We appreciate the opportunity to participate and look forward to continued dialogue. As it relates to Crime Victims United, I think understanding that this is kind of the start of the process, want to take kind of a step back and see how we got here, I think from Crime Victims United’s perspective, we really would implore you to think about three things as you move forward. First, public safety in whatever recommendations may come forward. Second, about the victims’ role in the process and the impacts that such decisions have on the victims and the victim community overall. Third, is also to look rather than just focusing on the immediate issue at hand, which clearly is important with regard to the overcrowding and the court orders, but also to look forward into actually what is kind of the best, you know, method to reduce recidivism, rehabilitation, and so on. And that’s where the Child Abuse Prevention Center’s interests come in, for example, around child abuse. Child abuse is very prevalent. The numbers are staggering, and just to read you a couple of statistics as it relates to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes that children who experience child abuse or neglect are about 9 times more likely to become active in criminal justice activity; further, 30% of child abuse victims go on to abuse their own children; and finally, 70% of prisoners according to a 2000 select committee of this body found that 70% of prisoners spend time in foster care, which presumes that there is some sort of abuse or neglect situation in that regard. So certainly an aspect to look forward and try to look at what prevention strategies upstream rather than focusing just on intervention and so on. And finally, just as it relates to the adult education clients, certainly we need to make sure there are opportunities for offenders who are coming out in terms of reducing recidivism, rehabilitation, to have access to programs like GEDs, high school diplomas programs. 44% of California prisoners do not have a high school diploma or a GED and those are proven strategies to help reduce recidivism, rehabilitation rather than focusing just on release and early release, which is obviously of great concern to the victim community.

Commenter #5:
Libby Sanchez on behalf of the California Public Defenders Association. I represent Public Defenders throughout the state and I, too, would like to offer any assistance that may be helpful to the committee as you work your way through this process.

It’s particularly, I think, helpful to hear from rank and file PDs because they’re on the ground knowing kind of all the quirks to the system, which may not be the 30,000 [feet] level giant fixes for which you’re looking but when you cobble them together really will make a huge change.

I very much appreciate the comments made by the representative from the LAO. A couple of issues I did want to raise. The first of which is that he indicated that the LAO has no position on the effectiveness of Prop. 36. The dispute we would have is that I think that there’s ample information that Prop. 36 was enormously effective when it was fully funded. We have a great opportunity now with the implementation of the ACA and some federal drawdown and the opportunity to funnel folks in who are Medi-Cal eligible to get that treatment at least for that three years.

And finally, I just want to point out one missing piece of the puzzle regarding increase to prison population. It has to do with Prop. 21, which basically adultized juvenile defendants in this state, and that’s a huge thing that we need to address.

Commenter #6:
Good morning, my name is Glenn Backes with Drug Policy Alliance. I commend the Speaker and members of the committee for convening this important discussion that has budget implications as well as human rights and civil rights implications. We would like to work with the committee and point out that most of our recommended reforms have to do with non-violent drug offenders but not exclusively with non-violent drug offenders. I’ll leave you with this statistic: As of Dec. 31, 2012, 33,000 people in state prison – 11,000 were there for non-violent property offenses and 12,000 were there for non-violent drug offenses. That’s a significant portion – about 25% – of the state prison population. Obviously incremental changes in those laws will have significant impact on human rights, civil rights, and the budget for education, health, and welfare.

Commenter #7:
Good morning. Ignacio Hernandez. I have a number of clients in the criminal justice arena as many of you know, including the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, which is a statewide association of criminal defense attorneys. Let me just mention four things that I think as legislators you can look at and take action on going forward.

Number one is about Prop. 36 and funding. Let’s be very clear. It was the legislature several years ago that determined to basically zero out state funding for Prop. 36. So it’s time to look at that. The studies show that – and I know our criminal defense attorneys see this on day-to-day basis – that when there is funding available and programming available and somebody can enroll in drug treatment within 24 hours of their court appearance, the success rate is exponentially higher. And what’s happening at the local level is that it’s taking weeks, if not, months to get into drug treatment. So that’s one.

Number two, we have to look at the discretion that judges have in sentencing. Right now. There are only three choices on a felony. The judge could choose the low, the mid, or the high term. But what if it’s somebody who deserves not the high term but two-thirds of the term. The judges have no discretion, so they’re given the high term because they think it’s more than the half. So we need to look at that and what kinds of alternatives that judges can have going forward.

Number three, we have to look at the funding decisions that the Board of State and Community Corrections. They give out hundreds of millions of dollars each year and if you review the funding, it’s primarily for suppression when about 1% is for going to rehabilitation and re-entry. So that needs to change.

And lastly – and this is a little bit off and something that isn’t normally talked about – but you have to look at the actual procedure in courts. There’s a proposal that’s been floating for a while but we hear is coming back up…of having court interpreters be present by video remote or also having defendants appear by video as opposed to actually being in the courtroom. What this does is make it much more difficult for the defense attorney and the client to communicate with one another, and it’s something we’ve pushed back on but we’re hearing there’s momentum behind the scenes and that the courts are going to try to push this to make this happen over the next two or three months and it could have a negative impact on folks who are trying to get their day in court and make sure their sentences actually fit the crime.

So those are a few things to look at and I look forward to talking to you further.

Commenter #8:
Milena Blake with Californians for Safety and Justice. I’m also here representing Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a statewide network of crime survivors who support reform in the criminal justice system. California for Safety and Justice is also a statewide organization looking to increase public safety and reduce waste in our criminal justice system. We wanted to thank you for convening this committee. We think it’s long overdue and a very important task to undertake.

The only other thing I wanted to point out…is that many of you have fantastic programs in your district that you know work and all we’re talking about is using evidence-based practices to support those programs to reduce recidivism and prevent crime in the first place so our communities are a better place to live.

I look forward to working with all of you. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Thank you.

Commenter #9:
My name is Dwight Bonds. I’m with the California Association of African-American Superintendents and Administrators. We work very, very closely with law enforcement. Many of our members have worked with the County Office of Education, working with incarcerated youths, youth that have been adjudicated and those may return to schools back in the community only to find themselves very shortly back into the system. We have a high value and correlation in working with mental health as one of the key partners in education. We also look at our rich history around members who work for universities…I’m just here today to offer our services and our assistance to work with this committee on this issue.

Commenter #10:
Jim Lindburg with the Friends Committee on Legislation in California. We’re a Quaker-based advocacy group and most of what I wanted to say has been said. But I would point out that first of all, we’re just really happy that the committee is looking at these issues. In his veto message of SB 649 by Mark Leno, the Governor indicated that sentencing is something that we have to look at and we hope that would be on the table.

We’ve very concerned about the out-of-state transfers. We’re getting letters from prisoners and family members about reviews taking place that would ship prisoners to out-of-state facilities. That’s very damaging to families and to their rehabilitation. We think family members ought to be viewed as assets who can help promote successful re-entry.

It’s just unequivocally not true that there are no longer non-violent prisoners still in the system who would not pose a risk to public safety as a result of Realignment. We think that we just really need a new paradigm shift. We have to be thinking very carefully about who occupies a prison bed or a jail bed and that it ought to be based on risk to public safety.

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