A Few Simple Steps to Reduce Prison Populations

Dear Governor Brown,

California Assembly Bill 109 proposes to move thousands of parolees and non-violent felons to the county jails, which seems tantamount to digging a new hole to bury what you’ve just excavated. It’s supposed to somehow save the state money. Soon after you signed the bill, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling to reduce the California prison population by 33,000 inmates. You say that the court ruling strengthens the need to implement AB 109, but from here it all looks like shell games and creative accounting.

Representing parolees over the last 7 years has given me a few ideas for keeping some people out of state prison. Here are some suggestions:

Parole them to the county where they are least likely to abscond. Make that the criterion and work from there. Forget the County of Commitment rule, where “consideration” can be given to Last Legal Residence. Once someone is paroled to the wrong county, transfer requests run into stifling criteria and “closed” counties. Go ahead and ask them at Revocation and Release where they plan to live when they get out, maybe ask them why, and parole them there. Many parolees return to prison because they picked up their last “beef’ in, say… Arbuckle, when their home is in San Francisco. In Arbuckle, there is no place to live or work, so they abscond home, repeatedly, returning to prison for ever-lengthening times when they make police contact.

When a parolee, during his or her parole, requests a transfer to a county where he or she would prefer to live, just grant the transfer. There are certainly hundreds, if not thousands of inmates in the state prison as we speak who are back in for absconding to their preferred home.

On Friday I represented BC, who has absconded four times from Sacramento to Fairfield to a specific address where he is the caretaker of a woman he’s been with for 30 years –she was shot in a drive-by shooting, not the intended target. His transfer was denied because she is not his lawfully wedded wife. He settled for 5 months (absconding carries 5 to 9 months) and is either going to miss her surgery, or she’s going to put it off for a couple more months. BC lives in Fairfield, not Sacramento, therefore, he’s back in prison.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation decided on their own to subject parolees to Jessica’s Law (Prop 83 –search my name in CP for more on the law) even if their underlying registerable crime took place prior to the election in 2006, when the majority of California voters, mistaking the broad term “sex offender” for that mercifully-rare scumbag who jumps out of the bushes and snags children, or who sexually assaults joggers, voted to make life on the streets hell for all who have been convicted under 290 of the California Penal Code. The law is ridiculous and unhelpful from all angles, and that includes protecting children.

In the interests of public safety, Governor, do we want a registered sex offender sleeping under his roof 1,000 feet from a school, or wandering the streets, stressed and sleepless? The CDCR’s extra measure does nothing to stop the rare creep who preys on strange children, and it makes life hell for thousands who have no such inclination –and puts them back in prison. The CDCR can undo their extra measures with a Memo. To repeat: very few registered sex offenders are  “child molesters,” and even fewer have been convicted of attacking strangers of any age.

Earlier last week I had a guy with a misdemeanor indecent exposure in Texas when he was 19 in 1986. The foregoing I can verify from his file. He filled in the rest telling me he was drunk and taking a leak and said something stupid to the cop, who trumped up the charge, after which he was OR’d and given credit for time served. He was back in for spending the night at his girlfriend’s house after sleeping through his usual departure time after his first day on a job hauling firewood. The law does not require him to be homeless, because the “crime” was committed prior to ’06, but your CDCR decided that he does, because of a receiving stolen property conviction that put him out after November of 2006. They require it on their own initiative and they can stop this. Now. Thus stopping many people from going back to prison just for living somewhere, or even spending the night somewhere.

Clean up the special conditions of parole so that they at least look like they promote public safety and conform to the Constitution. Someone got 7 months last week for pictures on his phone sent by his girlfriend of her in her underwear (pictures of people in their underwear were specifically banned by his comprehensively-thinking parole agent).

If there’s ever been a reputable study showing that the possession of “obscene” material makes someone likely to reoffend, please show me. And get rid of special conditions of parole with words like, “… that can be considered obscene…” to whom? a particularly uptight nun? Community standards? Just track them to a movie theater and arrest them. I’m sure they’ve seen something in there that “can be considered obscene.”

In summary: take a good look at the situations that cause people to return to prison for complete bullshit and you should be able to clear thousands out of the gyms of our state prisons with little or no fanfare.

Marc Gardner is a defense lawyer in the Bay Area. He can be reached at: marcgardner@earthlink.net


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