Real Prison Reform Must Include Sentencing and Parole Changes
Our burgeoned system has remained virtually unchanged to this day despite some good prison and criminal justice reform ideas having been presented over decades.
This and future column(s) will discuss a wide range of reforms that I believe could begin to heal, that is, repair and maintain, California’s horribly broken and dysfunctional criminal justice system -- from arrest though parole.
Today’s column focuses on the critical need to revise and revamp elements of the system that continue to feed into its injustice, ineffectiveness, and lack of accountability: ailing sentencing laws, ailing parole boards, and ailing parole agents.
It has been nearly three decades since California adopted its “tough on crime” stance with tougher sentencing laws, more prisons, fewer paroles, and longer (yet ineffective) parole terms. Experts say California has experienced one of the most ill-planned and flawed prison expansions in the country -- especially in the early 90's when then Republican Governor Pete Wilson took the prison population from 20,000 to 150,000 in an effort to run for the presidency on a tough-on-crime platform. Still, lawmakers and prosecutors are sending far more criminals to prison than even a well functioning system could handle. The result has been such massive overcrowding that critical prison programs and services have broken down -- completely in most prisons -- and living conditions are deplorable and dangerous.
B. Cayenne Bird is a 45-year veteran op-ed journalist and publisher. A descendant of Mary Todd Lincoln, and General Andrew Porter, she is passionate about human rights and criminal justice issues. A mother and grandmother with advanced degrees in Journalism, Liberal Studies, and Humanities (Cultural Anthropology) she has focused on prison reform making great strides in Calif. supporting the landmark Plata-Coleman case for a decade which resulted in major prison reform. She writes scholarly articles too but prefers op-eds.