Thursday, May 22, 2008

Is the Era of Mass Incarceration Over in California?

Early news reports (see Mark Rothfield's May 20th reporting in the LATimes) of a proposed settlement to the epic overcrowding case that has had California facing the possibility of court ordered prisoner releases suggest that a major shift in California policy may be under way. Since the 1980s when Governor Deukmejian promised to replace the problem of criminals invading the houses of Californian's (a trend that had already been going down for a decade and has continued to drop) with the problem of how to house prisoners, locking up as many troubled people as possible has replaced higher education and infrastructure as the way California governed.

The settlement (not yet read by your blogger) appears to place a major focus on keeping short term inmates (with sentences less than a year) at the county level and to serious efforts at rehabilitation. The first is probably a very good idea, counties are much closer to real crime problems and thus in a better position to understand the dynamics giving rise to them. Rehabilitation, however, promotes the underlying claim that criminality is the major problem facing the incarcerated population in California as opposed to a surfeit of legal jobs accessible to the young people in our major cities. Over-promising on rehabilitation now, however, could simply promote more warehousing later.

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