California can do more to help prisoners from returning to crime after they get out of prison. Instead of simply warehousing prisoners, we can encourage prisoners to join programs to improve their education, job training, and social coping skills, and deal with substance abuse. Proposition 57 introduces these programs to California prisons. We should join with Governor Jerry Brown in supporting Prop. 57.
Research shows rehabilitation stops released prisoners from returning to crime. A 2013 RAND Corporation study found that inmates were 43 percent more likely to stay away from prison cycle back if they had access to education programs during prison (Source).
In Los Angeles County, one third of all state prisoners return to crime after they are released, according to a 2010-2011 study (Source).
42.8 After serving their sentences, prisoners are back in prison within three years, according to a 2015 report issued by the Department of Corrections. This rate is improved from the previous year where 42.8 percent of the released state prisoners were cycling back into prison after committing more crimes (Source).
Young teen and adult offenders are even more likely to return to crime in California. Over half of young offenders ages 18 and 19 returned to crime within their first three years of release after a prison sentence in 2010-2011, the Department of Corrections showed (Source).
Prop. 57 helps only non-violent adult prisoners. State prisoners with non-violent convictions are eligible to participate in rehabilitation programs and parole (early release) considerations only after completing their longest sentence.
Prop. 57 also helps large numbers of teen offenders get rehabilitation services by allowing judges – not prosecutors – to decide whether a teen is tried as an adult or a juvenile. In juvenile court, judges have more latitude to sentence juveniles to programs with rehabilitation, in contrast to adult prisons, where rehabilitation opportunities are limited. Juvenile court judges look at the teens’ development and psychological health when deciding sentencing and rehabilitation.
Los Angeles Sheriff Jim McDonnell contends that Prop. 57 will grant automatic parole to more violent criminals (Source). This is not correct. Prop. 57 does not apply to prisoners with convictions for 23 different crimes such as murder or rape. And rehabilitation programs do not guarantee a prisoner automatic early release from prison. Review boards will still have the power to consider how well the prisoner has demonstrated rehabilitation and made use of services in prison, as well as the crime.
Prop. 57 stands in contrast to the fixed sentencing created by a 1976, California law. Instead, Prop. 57 grants opportunities for some prisoners to earn their early release by working through prison programs.
Prop 57. comes in the wake of the 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on overcrowding in California’s state prisons. Prop. 57 will help facilitate the federally mandated levels for state prison population levels.
Prop. 57. can stop cycles of crime and repeat offenders by rehabilitating prisoners before they are released. More rehabilitation for prisoners means safer neighborhoods and lower costs the state has to bear to house repeat offenders. Support Governor Brown and Prop. 57 to build public safety with evidence-based, research supported programs in prisons.
Annarose Mittelstaedt is a student in the Masters of Social Work program at the University of Southern California.