Beware candidates touting new "tough on crime" policies — and hold on to your wallet. Year after year, this state spends a steadily increasing portion of its budget on the prison system — without increasing public safety. Yet candidates in each election cycle try to appear ever tougher.
Here's one area where California is an anomaly among the states: Since 1979, those who complete their prison sentences are placed on a three-year period of post-sentence supervision, called parole.
California stands virtually alone in paroling all prisoners. Most states reserve parole for the most serious offenders. New York, Florida, and Texas place about one-third of prisoners in parole supervision.
Another peculiarity is that California churns parolees in and out of prison for short-term sentences (averaging four months, maximum one year) as a result of technical violations of parole (such as missing an appointment or failing a urine test). They were not convicted of a new crime.
This is a misuse of scarce, expensive prison space. In 2007, California incarcerated 16,000 technical parole violators (9.3 percent of the prison population), a significant contributor to crowding.
So the governor and Legislature approved a parole reform package that would allow the state to distinguish between high-risk and low-risk parolees – as other states do.
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