The Supreme Court has sounded the alarm to reform when it recently ruled that California must release some 33,000 inmates to deal with the problem of prison overcrowding and the unsafe health issues that has plague the California prison system for over twenty years.
While many have gone into panic mode, we can actually safely reduce the prison population if we create a new clemency system designed to handle the release county by county.
California has 58 counties. It is possible that each county on average have a five member pre-screened panel of average citizens to review requests for early release. Releasing 22 nonviolent prisoners on average per month per county (58) over the next year will cause California to obtain the high court’s order in two years that it has demanded. However, we cannot allow this to be done carelessly.
As I proposed some ten years ago , we should create a new clemency system designed to reduce the prison population safely by having average citizens sit on county clemency boards. People should be looking at who is fit for returning to the community. If average citizens knew who was really in prison, we would not have overcrowded prisons. This is a much safer approach then having vote seeking politicians or job protecting prison officials make the call. While the one would prefer not to release any to protect his or her “Tough on crime” stance. The other is subject to fear tactics by releasing the wrong person in an effort to regain power and control of this huge prison system. 21st century prison and justice reform must recognize that clemency is the most powerful tool in criminal justice and it is not being used properly. If used properly, it can save billions of tax dollars and thousands of lives.
Google California Clemency Boards and you will discover that a new clemency system for California is not a new idea. Even the Benefits of having a new clemency system stack up against current laws in California.
Benefit 1: Taking clemency power from the governor, judges and the “3 Strikes law” and give clemency power to the average citizens (pre screened) who vote and have served on a jury in their county through a constitutional amendment.
Current law: A California governor can commute the sentence of his political friend’s son, while more deserving individuals stay locked up. Article
Benefit 2: A new clemency system will save taxpayers of the State of California billions in incarceration cost by having average citizens sit on five member panels in each of the 58 counties of California and rule on who should be released from prison.
Currently: California prison system is relying on a computer to determine those unlikely to re-offend. But it incorrectly release 1500 last year of which 450 were violent. Article
Benefit 3: Permanently eliminate prison overcrowding by monitoring prison levels and releasing nonviolent prisoners who qualify early to prevent unsafe prison population levels.
Currently: The Supreme Court had to step in and order the state to release more than 30,000 prisoners due to unsafe conditions. Article
Benefit 4: Make the prison and parole system more effective in concentrating on the serious and violent offenders simply by not having to monitor those who do not need to be in prison or on parole.
Currently: Under State of California law, everyone who leaves prison is placed on parole.
Benefit 5: A new clemency system will cause prosecutors to think twice before using California “Three Strikes Law” on minor offenses with the knowledge that the convicted can take his or her case to a clemency board in their county.
Currently: There are more than4, 000 prisoners serving long sentences for minor crimes. Santos Reyes who cheated on a driving test under California’s “3 Strikes” is serving26 year to life sentence. Reyes has no violence in his prior two felony convictions. Article
Benefit 6: Streamline the release of those wrongly convicted who have DNA proof without going through the many years and layers of the current appeals process.
Currently: It is normal to hear that someone was released from prison after serving 20 or more years for a crime they did not commit.
Benefit 7: Any state can have a new clemency system and its success will make it easier for the federal government to adopt per the will of the people.
Currently: Many states are dealing with prison overcrowding issues.
Benefit 8: Streamline the current humanitarian release program for terminally ill prisoners.
Currently: California prison system has proven to be terminally ill as it pursued a dying Montel Johnson from another state’s prison for “Justice.” Article
Benefit 9: A new clemency system will put an end to runaway prison expansion projects.
Currently: Governor Brown had to step in to pull the plug on a $365,000,000.00 new death row at San Quentin State Prison that many have questioned its need. Article
Benefit 10: Offer more county rehabilitation program services. A portion of the savings from current incarceration cost of $51,000.00 per year, per inmate, transformed into $8,000.00 per released inmate going to the county for rehabilitation purposes. Also add incentives of a full state pardon under strict guidelines for those who do not return to any prison in the country.
Currently: California sends 67% of released prisoners back to prison in a short time. Article
It appears that the reason we do not have real justice and prison reform is that “We the People” are trusting computers and politicians with our safety.
This is neither safe or sane and instead of being in fear of criminals, we should be in fear of worse, if we do not take a more active role in justice and prison reform.