Watching Koppel’s “Breaking Point” last night [previous coverage here], one of the issues that stood out to me was the recidivism in California and the number of parole violators that were back in prison. Someone, maybe it was Koppel, maybe a counselor or even an inmate perhaps, described it as a “revolving door”.Lawmakers look at this revolving door – high recidivism rates – and point to a need for stricter laws. Parts of the public also subscribe to this view. “Look at these criminals! We let them and what do they do? Go right back in! Harsher penalties! Three strikes and you’re out! Life, life, life, death”.
This is a misguided view. The real problem is that nothing happens to these inmates in overcrowded jails. What I mean by that is when they leave they’re essentially the same person that walked in the door. All that has happened is the passage of time, knowledge of how to commit more crimes and perhaps a sexually transmitted disease or two.
Consider this (and I’m writing from memory): There are 500 spots in all types of “rehabilitation” programs at CSP – Solano and over 10,000 inmates. These spots include GED classes, drug rehab classes and vocational programs.
As those on the outside will acknowledge, GED and vocational classes aren’t worth much, but they’re better than nothing. Yet, over 90% of inmates don’t even have access to any such program. They sit around the yard (calling themselves “yard dogs”), working out and the only way they can make any money is the drug trade. Overcrowding has placed such a severe burden on resources that frequently inmates will be paroled without ever taking a single rehabilitation class in prison.
Take the case of Travis Tippets [first in the slideshow] (whom the show followed after his release on parole). He had to be paroled to his last residence: his father’s house. He doesn’t have a license (two prior DUI convictions) and has felony convictions. He also had a drug habit but received no counseling or rehab. He also was unable to get into any vocational class (except one three years prior to his release in welding or some such thing). He lives in an economically repressed area, where there isn’t much industry and what little there is conducts background checks.
He either has to walk to work or take a bus. Either option will not get him anywhere for the normal start time of 9am. Is it any surprise that he will violate his parole?
So, what then, are
they we to do? If we cannot increase prison program capacity and availability, then we are setting these inmates up to fail. We cannot, then, point the finger back at them and say “you’re no good, go back to jail”. That’s a dishonest position.
I suggest the following (or a variation thereof): The State employs paroled inmates for a period of two years following their release. Pick an industry, set up offices throughout the state and hire parolees. The State has control over them (call it a modified form of probation), pays them slightly above minimum wage and puts them to work. Give them access to rehabilitation programs on the outside and make them productive citizens. The State’s responsibility to keep the streets safe can work in several ways. It we want to ensure that criminals are not on the streets engaging in criminal conduct, then we need to ensure that they have no incentive to do so and have the necessary tools to cope with the stresses of life.
It’s entirely possible. If the State has the resources to spend $43,000 a year on Travis Tippets in jail, then it can certainly spend that money on paying Tippets to work on the outside and lead a responsible life. He learns a trade and after two years is employable. He also doesn’t feel discarded, forgotten and reviled.