Advocates Commend Strategy to Reduce Victimization and Expensive Incarceration for Low-Level Offenses</p>
SACRAMENTO – In his proposed 2011-12 state budget released today, Governor Jerry Brown is urging structural changes to the state's corrections system that advocates say will reduce both crime and waste. The proposals include authorizing counties to handle people convicted of "nonviolent, non-serious, non-sex offenses, and without any previous convictions for such offenses," according to budget documents.
"Governor Brown set an important tone today and made it clear that our expensive state prisons should be reserved for people convicted of serious offenses, not for everyone who's ever made a mistake," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance in Southern California. "California is expected to save $500 million a year by handling more petty offenses, including low-level drug possession, at the county level. We think the savings would be even greater if drug treatment were made more available in the community. Under the plan, counties would have that option."
In both 2009 and 2010, Sacramento announced over $1 billion in unspecified cuts to corrections but the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is expected to have exceeded its budget in both of those years. If the legislature accepts the governor's current proposal, CDCR spending in 2011-12 would be equivalent to that of 2010-11. Savings would come from keeping more people convicted of low-level offenses at the county level; additional costs would come from more realistic accounting of department costs, particularly in health care provision. Unfortunately, the plan released today includes further cuts to inmate education and drug treatment programs, which have been devastated in recent years.
"What Governor Brown presented today was a plan to work with counties to develop and implement long-fought-for systemic changes to corrections in this state," Dooley-Sammuli added. "We're eager to see this realignment come with resources so that local governments have what they need to implement sound public safety policies and programs. Investing in drug treatment makes good public safety and economic sense. We look forward to working with Sacramento to implement these reforms in a financially sustainable way."