True reform of our overcrowded and ineffective state corrections system cannot be accomplished by spending billions on bricks and mortar, or releasing tens of thousands of offenders early.
The citizens and taxpayers of our state are being shortchanged by shortsighted approaches that do not address the underlying causes.
The current approach is akin to waiting until the patient develops pneumonia instead of treating the cough in its early stages. In real dollars, we can ignore the patient and spend $40,000 annually once he or she is incarcerated in our prisons, or we can spend 20 percent of that amount, provide local community-based treatment, education and community supervision and be much more effective in preventing imprisonment in the first place.
Factor in the reduction in community costs of crime, victim impact and the increased contribution the offender can make to his/her family and community by staying crime free and we have what is termed in the profession as a no-brainer.
Unfortunately, during the debate over the solutions to the problem, our state leaders failed to take into account true comprehensive corrections reform and completely ignored the local probation system. The results of which are the multibillion-dollar corrections facility building program known as Assembly Bill 900.
As we have seen in recent legislative testimony, the number of projected beds was significantly overstated and the costs of construction were significantly understated. Additionally, the timeline to bring these beds on line was overly optimistic.
Probation is the critical component to removing the revolving door of our prison system without releasing prisoners early and endangering our communities.
Approximately 20,000 probationers graduate into our prison system every year for violations that do not merit filing criminal charges. This does not count those probationers who commit new crimes and are sentenced to prison for them.
No one would argue that the current local system is a model for how things should function. More than 300,000 individuals are on probation statewide. There are only 1,400 probation officers to supervise them in our communities. This, in and of itself, provides a tremendous opportunity to divert a significant number of individuals from our state system with a relatively small investment in the front end of this system.
Nationally, experts agree that effective community corrections programs paired with treatment and intervention programs can reduce recidivism significantly and relieve prison overcrowding.
California's neglected adult probation population provides significant opportunities to impact prison overcrowding. One only need look at the juvenile justice system and the results of 15 years of intensive front-end services to see the possibilities. Adequate local and state funding has contributed to reducing juvenile felony arrests by 48 percent and misdemeanors by 26 percent.
A decade ago, the population in state juvenile facilities was more than 10,000. Today, it is less than 3,000. This reduction was not simply a transfer of juveniles into local custody. In fact, we have fewer juveniles in institutional confinement today than 10 years ago. We can realize those same successes if our leaders find the courage to invest in not only bricks and mortar but also front-end local programs and services that are evidence-based, effective, and at the same time do not decrease the safety of our citizens like the early release proposals being discussed.
Instead of looking at the prospect of opening the back doors of our prisons and releasing offenders early, we should look at providing resources at the local level that will prevent many offenders from ever reaching the front door of our prisons.
The state needs to contribute to a properly funded and comprehensive community corrections program that complements the state's prison system. Fixing California's prison system takes more than throwing money at jails in the middle of the night. We need real reform that brings all matters of public safety and rehabilitation to the table. As citizens and taxpayers, we should demand that our leaders use our resources in the most effective and efficient manner. Investing in probation and local programs does exactly that.
Powers is chief probation officer for Stanislaus County and president of the Chief Probation Officers of