Innovative Incarceration Could Result in Lower Costs and Safer Citizens

PrisonThe average annual cost to house a prisoner in California is $71,000, and according to the California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, the cost has risen 45% since just 2011. And as costs have soared, California’s policymakers have resorted to creative ways to release inmates from California’s overcrowded prisons. But what if that Californian creativity could be harnessed to lower the cost of incarceration?

This process began in 2011, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California must reduce its state prison population to no more than 137% of its design capacity within two years. In an attempt to comply, the state Legislature passed Assembly Bill 109, which required non-violent, non-serious, and non-sexual offenders with sentences of longer than one year to be housed in county jail facilities rather than state prisons.

Because AB109, the so-called prison “realignment,” merely shifted costs for incarceration from the state to the counties, two additional measures of significance were passed in an attempt to reduce the overall inmate population. These were sold to voters as reform initiatives, and both of them passed with substantial majorities. Prop. 47, passed in 2014, reclassified several felonies as misdemeanors, which had the effect of reducing prison sentences in new cases, and earlier release for prisoners sentenced for crimes no longer classified as felonies. Prop. 57, passed in 2016, granted early release opportunities to inmates with good behavior who had committed non-violent crimes.

These measures resulted in the early release of tens of thousands of inmates onto California’s streets. Since enactment, violent crime has increased in California, although the data is mixed. For example, according to the FBI, while violent crime in California increased in 2015 and 2016, it increased across most of the U.S. in those years. As stated in a recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California, “California’s violent crime rate increased by 3.7% in 2016 to 444 per 100,000 residents. There have been other recent upticks in 2012 and 2015, but the statewide rate is still comparable to levels in the late 1960s.”

More recently – most crime statistics for 2017 are not yet available – the L.A. Times reports that in 2017 “in Los Angeles, homicides are down, but violent crime is up.” A big picture perspective on crime trends in California can be seen in this graphic produced by using data from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office:

California Crime Trends – Crime Rates per 100,000 Residents

California Crime Trends

As can be seen, rates of crime in California rose throughout the 60s and 70s, reaching a high plateau that lasted right up until around 1994, when California passed the three strikes law. After that, crime rates fell precipitously for years, reaching historic lows. Since 2014, rates of crime have been rising, even though they remain relatively low from a historical perspective.

But why should we be happy with a 0.4% rate of violent crime? Why should 4% of Californians be victimized by a violent criminal in any given decade? And who’s to say that crime rates would not have continued to decline, if it weren’t for the passage of Props. 47 and 57?

More to the point, whether or not Californians should or should not incarcerate more criminals, or impose longer sentences on criminals, Californians don’t have that option. Because it costs too much to house prisoners in California. How can California house more inmates without building more conventional prisons, which are staggeringly expensive?

An excellent resource prepared by shows the costs per prisoner in other states. Nevada, our neighbor to the east, only spends $17,851 per year per prisoner. Alabama has the lowest cost, at $14,780 per prisoner. Arizona, $25,397. Even Oregon and Washington, California’s left coast comrades in bloated inefficient government excess, manage to spend far less than California does, paying per prisoner costs of $44,021 and $37,841, respectively.


When you read up on costs per prisoner in other states, the results are somewhat amusing. Because in those states, the conventional wisdom is that costs are out of control. Alabama’s costs per prisoner have “doubled since 2003.” In Nevada, “overtime costs continue to mount.” Imagine that. But in all states, the same factors contribute to rising costs to house prisoners. California just spends more, in every category. Here is a table from California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office showing details of the cost per prisoner.

California’s Costs per Prisoner – Itemized Costs

Costs per prisoner

It’s likely these costs are understated. Does “Security” include the additional amounts that will be necessary to properly fund the pensions that are due our correctional officers? Does “Facility Operations” include the payments on the billions that have been borrowed by the state to construct California’s 34 state prisons?

In the recently approved California state budget for 2017-18, $11.4 billion is allocated to the Department of Corrections, up another $286 million (2.6%) from last year. But again, this doesn’t begin to represent the true cost to taxpayers. A recent UCLA study estimated the cost of incarceration for just the County of Los Angeles at nearly $1.0 billion last year.

It’s likely the total cost to California’s taxpayers to incarcerate criminals – taking into account state and local expenses – is easily twice the $11.4 billion budgeted by the state. And these inflated costs can be attributed to two causes. First, the excessive costs caused by unionized government – pensions in particular, and excessive costs to build state prisons, caused by a union controlled state legislature requiring needlessly expensive project labor agreements. Second, and arguably even more significant, the overall excessive cost-of-living in California – also a byproduct of policies enacted by California’s union controlled state legislature – which makes everything more expensive.

The burden of realignment – foisting responsibility for state prisoners back onto the counties where they were convicted – is also an opportunity. Because counties, like states in our federal system, are laboratories of democracy, laboratories of policy. Why can’t California’s counties experiment with new modes of incarceration. If inmates are sequestered to Cal Fire to work the fire lines, why can’t they do other tasks throughout the rural regions of California? Why not use inmates to improve rural access roads, remove dead trees from our drought-stressed forests, or even work in agriculture?

While many inmates may be too dangerous to do this sort of work, with new technologies to monitor and control prisoners, it is possible that prisoners who would not be viable candidates for these programs in the past would be qualified today. Electronic monitoring devices are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Why not use these devices to monitor not only location, but heart rate or, who knows, even brain waves or other physical indicators of imminent fight or flight? Wouldn’t adding additional capabilities to these devices allow more effective means to deter escape and even prevent violence? Why not use swarms of inexpensive drones to hover in the vicinity of inmates, reducing the number of guards required, and replacing some or all layers of expensive security fencing? Why not equip these drones with nonlethal means to prevent escape or violence?

Law enforcement has stayed abreast of new technologies and that is one of the reasons rates of crime are down sharply across America. While the impact of new technologies must be constantly scrutinized, and some of them may be problematic, there is no reason not to extend these tools beyond law enforcement into the corrections industry. It’s reasonable to assume most inmates would prefer a virtual prison to the penitentiary. One that afforded them mobility, equal or greater safety, a mission, a chance to engage in a vocation, and fresh air. Such innovation might also bring welcome relief to taxpayers.

Trying – and failing – to explain away California’s high crime rate

california-prisonsImagine the reaction if, after a loan officer told an applicant they would not receive a loan because of too much debt, the applicant asked “How about we just disregard 25% of my debt?”

As illogical as this sounds, it was the approach recently articulated by a group seeking to downplay the crime rate increases in California following various criminal justice “reforms.”  In a study picked up by a few newspapers, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJJ) opined that the crime rate statewide in California decreased following these reforms – if you excluded Los Angeles County.  Yes, Los Angeles County, where more than one out of four residents of California reside!

The propaganda espoused by proponents of these various reform measures is that crime is not really rising very much so long as it isn’t as bad as it was 30 years ago. They continue that trend with their attempt to manipulate the statewide crime rate increase by excluding more than 25% of the population.

Contrary to the line peddled by CJJ, the violent crime rate in California per 100,000 has risen since the passage of AB 109.  AB 109 was enacted in October, 2011, a year when the violent crime rate in California was 413.3 per 100,000.  In 2016, the violent crime rate in California was 443.9 — an increase of more than 7% over the 2011 violent crime rate.

Likewise noteworthy is the increase in the property crime rate since the 2014 passage of Prop 47 which reduced multiple theft offenses to inconsequential misdemeanors.  The property crime rate in California increased in both 2015 and 2016 from the property crime rate in 2014, years in which the rest of the United States marked two more years of a continuation of a 14-year decrease in property crime rates.  Further, prior to Prop 47, California had seen three straight years of property crime rate decreases.

The ADDA has joined crime victims, law enforcement, business owners and public safety leaders working to pass the “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018.”  This initiative will address some of the serious flaws brought on by “criminal justice reform.”  Learn more about “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018” at

Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Could high taxes and crime push California voters to a tipping point?

VotingDespite changing demographics and a sharp veer to the ideological left, is it possible that California could take a political trip back to the future as two staples resurface that drove the state’s politics in the more conservative 1980s and 1990s? Look around and you’ll see indications that even in this liberal bastion on the left coast, the issues of taxes and crime are stirring again.

From the time when cinema’s Doc Brown (Dr. Emmett L. Brown, ably played by Christopher Lloyd) was sending his flux-capacitor equipped DeLorean back in time to today’s California run by Jerry Brown — a past-and-future character if there ever was one — attitudes on the issues of taxes and crime seemed to have shifted dramatically.

Considering recent evidence, one might think that the tax issue has faded from the conscience of Californians, most of whom were not around when the state’s voters kicked off a national tax revolt that helped propel Ronald Reagan to the presidency by overwhelmingly passing property tax-cutting Proposition 13 in 1978.

In a Wall Street Journal piece from a year ago leading up to the 2016 election, I asked, “Nearly 40 years later, many Californians are wondering: Will the tax revolt mind-set die where it all began?”

After all a measure on the 2016 ballot (Proposition 55) extended the highest-in-the nation income tax that voters put in place just four years previously; a cigarette tax passed, as did many local taxes and bonds.

This year’s legislative session included a gas tax increase, the cap-and-trade extension, which many call a tax increase because it raises revenue for the government to spend, and a document tax to fund housing issues. This legislative session probably produced the most pro-tax successes since the 1935 legislature created both a state income tax and a vehicle license fee.

Yet all this tax activity may be driving voters to a tipping point to say enough!

The first indication is the California electorate’s sour reaction to the gas tax. In a University of California Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll conducted after the gas tax increase became law, 58 percent opposed the gas tax, 39 percent solidly opposed. The twelve-cent a gallon tax will not even be collected until November. The negative reaction to the tax seen in the poll likely would increase once the tax adds to the price of gasoline at the pump.

The test of new California resistance to taxes could well occur in November 2018. Two measures to repeal the tax have been filed. A gas tax repeal measure could rally Republican voters to the polls during the general election, especially if no Republican makes the runoff for either of the state’s high-profile offices, governor and United States senator. Since the state’s Republican Party is said to be behind one of the repeal initiative proposals,  polling shows that this is a powerful issue among voters. In addition a Southern California state senator, Democrat Josh Newman, is facing a recall effort centered on his gas tax vote.

The heated debate over extending cap andtrade to reduce greenhouse gases centered on the additional costs that would be felt by California consumers. The word “tax” would have dominated were a word cloud image created over word use frequency during the cap-and-trade debate. Increased costs generated by cap-and-trade demands were labeled a hidden tax.

California citizens have yet to feel the additional costs that the cap-and-trade measure might add—anywhere from fifteen- to seventy-three-cents per gallon of gasoline over time, according to the state’s legislative analyst.

If the gas tax repeal makes the ballot, an interesting political dynamic will play out in defense of the tax. A campaign to preserve the tax would likely have the greatest financial support. The tax was supported by both labor and big business. They argued that California’s economy depends on improved transportation and updated roads and highways. Business also supported the cap-and-trade bill, fearing if it were defeated an unelected California Air Resources Board would put a tougher, command-and-control greenhouse gas restriction in place.

The individual voter who pays the freight of the gas tax increase, additional car fees, and increased costs linked to the cap-and-trade law, however, may want to use the gas tax repeal initiative to send a message.

A rejection of the gas tax increase would certainly be a marker that as liberal as Californians have become, there is still a conservative streak when it comes to taxes and a potent issue from the past could return.

Meanwhile there is the issue of crime—like taxes, also on the rise. A backlash is stirring to changes backed by criminal reform efforts in the legislature and on the ballot.

In response to a court order to reduce prison populations, Governor Jerry Brown championed AB 109 in 2011. Under so-called realignment, certain low-level offenders were moved to county jails from state prisons. In many instances, overwhelmed local jailers were forced to release prisoners from their jails to make room.

Along came two ballot measures, Proposition 47 in 2014 and Proposition 57 in 2016, that downgraded a number of felonies to misdemeanors and fast-tracked the parole process for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes.

Efforts to reform the justice system and reduce prison overcrowding prompted the law changes. Voters are sympathetic to efforts allowing prisoners to achieve rehabilitation. Voters passed both ballot initiatives despite major opposition from the public safety community.

The combination of laws, however, has the law enforcement community warning of a rise in crime with little ability to curb it. Property thefts, forgeries, frauds, illegal drug use, and more under $950 are labeled a consequence-free crime because few arrested for such crimes serve any time, and perpetrators are aware of the situation.

According to a release from the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, “Prop 47 has created a criminal culture where criminals know they face little, or far lesser, punishment for their crimes. Following the passage of AB 109, nearly 25 percent of jail space that could house criminals serving local sentences for property or violent crime is now occupied by those shifted from state prison to local jails to serve their time.”

Law enforcement officials reveal increases in crime as a result of the new laws, but it is the consequences on the street and in people’s lives that have changed the tone of the conversation. If you’re not convinced, take a look at neighborhood websites with constant chatter about break-ins and suspicious activity and how to set up alarm systems and security cameras.

In Sacramento a growing number of neighborhoods fed up with petty crime pooled money to hire private security for public streets. In the inland empire, vehicle thefts jumped from ninth in the nation to fifth in just one year. In the west San Fernando Valley, gang activity has increased 63 percent in two years. A number of California cities are joining in an effort called Taking Back Our Community, a coalition of local governments dedicated to public education and community advocacy surrounding the unintended adverse public safety impacts of recent changes to California’s criminal law.

This surge of activity recalls another time in California history when crime became a major policy and political issue. As noted California historian Kevin Starr wrote in his book, Coast of Dreams, California on the Edge, 1990–2003: “In 1980, California had fewer than 25,000 inmates in a dozen prisons. By January 1998 there were some 154,000 prisoners in 33 prisons.” Californians elected two governors in succession who were tough on crime. Republicans George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson occupied the corner office in the capitol for much of the 1980s and 1990s.

In his first inaugural address in 1983, Deukmejian said, “All the prosperity in the world will not make our society better if our people are threatened by crime. Therefore, it will be the highest priority during my administration to provide all the leadership I can to make California safe again.”

Wilson’s 1994 State of the State Address was one of many to pinpoint the crime issue. He called for get-tough measures against dangerous felons and repeat criminals. He also called for bills that would put three-repeat felons behind bars for good.

The legislature responded by passing a three-strikes law in March, but the people did them one better supporting a three-strikes ballot measure (Proposition 184) in November 1994 that received nearly 72 percent of the vote.

But the crime pendulum shifted with Propositions 47 and 57.

In a Sacramento Bee op-ed published a month before the November 2016 election in hopes of stopping Prop 57, which Wilson argued gutted the three-strikes law, he wrote, “The three-strikes initiative approved in 1994 and other sensible crime- control laws prevented millions of Californians from becoming crime victims. It would be gross dereliction of duty to discard laws that have provided us protection of such proven effectiveness.”

This time he was not as persuasive.

But now that the effects of the crime reform initiatives and state laws are being tallied, that pendulum may be moving back again. Will state politics follow?

Certainly California is in a different place today than three and four decades ago, but growing unease can be detected about the tax and crime issues that dominated politics in that era.

Let’s just say that Jerry Brown, rather than Doc Brown, would recognize the modern social-media terminology associated with the taxes and crime in California.

They’re trending.

ditor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Originally published in EUREKA, Stanford University’s Hoover Institution’s online magazine.

California Could Free 9,500 Inmates in 4 Years

Corrections officials announced new criminal sentencing rules on Friday that aim to trim California’s prison population by 9,500 inmates after four years.

They include steps like reducing inmates’ sentences up to six months for earning a college degree and by up to a month each year for participating in self-help programs such as alcohol and substance abuse support groups and counseling, anger management, life skills, victim awareness, restorative justice and parenting classes.

Virtually any inmate except those on death row or those serving life-without-parole sentences would be eligible to earn the credits and lower their sentences.

It’s the latest step in a years-long drive to dramatically lower the state’s prison population in response to federal court orders stemming from lawsuits by prison advocates and pressure to turn away from mass incarceration.

The proposed changes follow voters’ approval of Proposition 57 in November. The initiative lets certain felons seek parole more quickly and gave corrections officials broad discretion to grant early release credits. …

Click here to read the full article

VIDEO: James Lacy on Trump, Crime and Gun Control

Prop. 57 Would Grant Early Release For Violent Criminals

Police carJust a week ago, California Attorney General Kamala Harris released an alarming report detailing how violent crime in California is on the rise, increasing 10% over the last year.

Violent crimes were up last year by about 15,000 to a high of 166,588. Homicides went up 9.7 percent, robberies 8.5 percent, aggravated assaults 8 percent. Rapes increased 36 percent!

It is in this environment that Governor Jerry Brown has placed before voters this November a ballot measure deceptively titled the “Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016”  – when it might be more accurately dubbed the “Let Violent Criminals Out Of Prison Early Act of 2016.”

The measure, now officially Proposition 57, purports to allow for early release only of those inmates who have committed “non-violent offenses,” but is written in a way that even a spokesperson for the initiative says will only prevent early release for those who committed 23 specific violent crimes.

Here are just some of the supposedly “non-violent crimes” for which early release would be possible if this measure is passed: rape by intoxication, rape of an unconscious person, human trafficking involving sex act with minors, drive-by shooting, assault with a deadly weapon, taking a hostage, domestic violence involving trauma, possession of a bomb or weapon of mass destruction, hate crime causing physical injury, arson causing great bodily injury, discharging a firearm on school grounds, corporal injury to a child, and false imprisonment of an elderly person. The list actually goes on and on.

In addition to significantly reducing the time a vast number of violent criminals would have to serve before being eligible for parole, the Governor’s measure actually allows bureaucrats at the Department of Corrections to give “time off for good behavior” to literally any inmate in state prison, including those convicted of the most heinous criminal acts, including first-degree murder.

I suppose another equally valid ballot title for the measure could be the “California Crime Victim Re-victimization Act,” because the measure was purposely drafted to allow every prisoner currently serving time for the violent crimes listed above (and more) to be eligible for early release based on the new guidelines. Which means that all of the victims of these terrible acts, who had some degree of certainty as to the disposition of their attackers, would all have to wonder if suddenly their attackers would be back on the streets – much sooner than they had been promised by the criminal justice system.

Brown’s measure, in one broadly written provision, would overturn a number of previous tough-on-crime measures passed by California voters, including key provisions of Marsy’s Law; 3-Strikes-And-You’re-Out – the Victims’ Bill of Rights; the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act; and the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act.

Brown has so far spent over $5 million from a ballot measure advocacy committee he controls to put Prop 57 before the voters, and he still has over $20 million in that fund. He argues that these “reforms” are needed to address prison overcrowding, and also says that he very much regrets his support in 1977, as governor, for establishing determinative sentencing laws in California. These have led to the establishment of strict sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimum sentences, and enhanced sentences for certain crimes.

Brown also feels strongly that the current system provides no incentive for inmates to be exemplary while behind bars, and feels that with the carrot of reducing sentences that prison authorities can cause inmate behavior to change in a positive way, reducing recidivism.

A robust conversation about criminal justice reform is a good thing, and clearly some reforms are worthwhile to discuss, and even implement. However, in the case of this particularly dreadful ballot measure, its basic premise is a lie. Governor Brown wants to soften sentences and allow for early release of violent criminals – while trying to tell voters with a straight face that that is not what this measure actually does.

A final and disturbing fact: Attorney General (and United States Senate candidate) Kamala Harris is charged with writing an accurate title and summary for each ballot measure. As the state’s top prosecutor, Harris knows full well what this measure does, but still placed before voters the sentence, “Allows parole consideration for persons convicted of nonviolent felonies…”.

The question is whether general election voters, inundated with campaign messaging from not only a presidential election but from a boatload of other ballot measures, will understand this measure for what it actually is. Because if they just go by the ballot title and summary in front of them by Kamala Harris, thousands of very dangerous people will be back on the streets very, very soon.

Originally published at Breitbart California.

ublisher of the FlashReport

Violent crime in California jumped 10 percent last year

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

California violent crime increased 10 percent last year, the first rise since 2012, according to a report Friday from Attorney General Kamala Harris.

The number of violent crimes reached 166,588 in 2015, about 15,000 more than the previous year. Aside from the small uptick four years ago, and a few earlier blips, violent crime has been on a steady decrease over the last two decades.

The new report said homicides increased 9.7 percent, robberies rose 8.5 percent and aggravated assaults were up 8 percent.

Rapes increased 36 percent, to 12,793 from 9,397. …

Judge Sentences Ex-California Senator Leland Yee to Five Years for Racketeering

As reported by NBC Bay Area:

A federal judge sentenced disgraced former California Sen. Leland Yee to five years in prison Wednesday morning after the career politician asked the judge for leniency and to take his whole life of service into account.

Senior District Court Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco imposed the sentence after the 67-year-old Yee pleaded guilty in July to one count of conspiracy to engage in racketeering.

“I don’t feel I should be lenient,” Breyer said during the hearing. “The crimes that you committed have resulted in essentially an attack on democratic institutions. We all deal with the situation that we in our work must be accepted by the public as having done an honest job.”

Still, the judge sided with the defense, who had asked for five years in prison, rather than with prosecutors, who had sought an eight-year sentence …

Click here to read the full article

Will New Initiative Add to Current Crime Problem?

Photo credit: Michael Coghlan via Flickr

Photo credit: Michael Coghlan via Flickr

At about the same time Gov. Jerry Brown was explaining his new initiative to reform the determinate sentencing law, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell was telling Town Hall Los Angeles that law enforcement was facing a losing battle with crime. The sheriff argued that ballot measures back to Proposition 36 in 2000 easing drug punishment through Proposition 47 voiding prison for some felonies and AB109 prison realignment have led to increased crime.

Will Brown’s new initiative proposal add to the crime problem by making it easier for non-violent offenders to gain parole?

Sen. Jim Nielsen thinks so. He stated in a press release: “Violent and property crimes have increased in cities across the state from Sacramento to Los Angeles. Weakening the criminal justice system will only increase the victimization of California citizens.”

Nielsen laid the fault in the crime increase at Proposition 47, which reduced many felonies and misdemeanors, allowing arrestees to escape the threat of prison.

Sheriff McDonnell said he supported the spirit of what Prop. 47 was trying to do but fixes are needed because it is not working. Prior to Prop. 47, a criminal arrested for stealing goods valued less than $950, or on certain drug charges, faced either time in jail or a treatment program. McDonnell said the leverage of jail time no longer exists. People know they won’t get locked up for a theft under $950, he said.

The sheriff said the AB109 prison re-alignment law put state prison inmates in county jails, which are not equipped to handle them. Jails are intended to house people pre-trial, not to house long-term prisoners, McDonnell said. One state prisoner shifted to the L.A. county jail is serving a 42-year term.

The realignment program was designed to free up space in state prisons. Brown’s proposed initiative would further that goal by giving judges and parole boards more discretion.

Allowing judges to judge specific circumstances and mete out appropriate justice is a common sense philosophy.

But at what cost to public safety?

While McDonnell said it wasn’t his intention to bash Prop. 47, he noted that crime in the county was up 11.2 percent over the last year with 40 percent of those freed under Prop. 47 re-arrested. One individual has been re-arrested 22 times.

McDonnell said he wanted to work with Prop. 47 supporters to meet the goals of the initiative while at the same time adding fixes that return incentive and disincentives for individuals to obey the law.

One Prop. 47 supporter who listened to the sheriff speak was Tom Hoffman, a long time law enforcement official who serves as a Senior Public Safety Adviser for the non-profit Californians for Safety and Justice, an organization that advocated for Proposition 47.

Hoffman took exception to the sheriff putting responsibility of increased crime on Prop. 47. Hoffman said crime statistics all across the country have gone up about the same rate as in California.

Given reports of increased crime issued by the police and a recent spike in gun sales, it can be assumed citizens of California feel less safe. Yet, the governor’s initiative is counting on a changed attitude toward crime and punishment as indicated by the passage of Proposition 47 and the Three Strike law reform.

A couple of months ago I wrote that a spike in crime could bring back the rise of politicians like former Gov. George Deukmejian who rode a tough-on-crime image to high state offices. If the Brown gambit adds to the perception that crime is increasing because of government actions there likely could be a political push-back.

Employment Struggles for Ex-Offenders New Focus of CA Legislation

The good news is that the California Department of Corrections offers program to help inmates become opticians.

The bad news is that there are four different state statutes that allow the state to refuse to license an ex-offender as an optician, established in explicit language in the law.

It’s the riddle of reform, as California’s prison inmate population dropped 17 percent between 2005 and 2014 while the number of individuals on parole dipped 61 percent.

Where do they go, though?

Ineligible for employment

Both stats are relatively sunny reflections on Gov. Brown and the state Assembly’s effort to reduce both crime and criminals.

Among other things, the state hiked credits toward early release for non-violent and minimum custody offenders and established a new parole system for non-violent second time criminals.

But if you’re looking for a job and have been convicted of a crime involving a controlled substance – and this includes marijuana– forget about getting work on an ambulance crew, a litter van, or a wheelchair van. You could become a real estate broker, a midwife or a speech pathologist, but you’d have to make a case for it.

Any misdemeanor will keep you from working at as a smog check station attendant, a locksmith, a repo man or board member of a humane society.

The information comes from a database assembled by the American Bar Association. Users can search dictates in each state for how a conviction of a variety of crimes can affect a person’s ability to get a job, a business license, a judicial position, housing, education and 10 other endeavors.

The findings can be comforting – someone with a felony conviction can’t serve on a grand jury – and amusing, as a felon is also ineligible to participate in the cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions.

Contradictions in law

The database also exposes the contradictions in the law regarding employment restrictions on inmates. In California, “not much work has been done on fixing the employment and licensure issues,” said W. David Ball, an associate professor at Santa Clara University School of Law.

“These laws are generally written broadly, and there are laws that are easy to understand, like you would not want someone who was involved with financial fraud to be a CPA,” Ball said. “But it makes no sense that someone convicted of drunk driving can’t be a cosmetologist.”

The ABA database is part of a broad effort to loosen restrictions on ex-offenders. There is a national move to create a bill in all states forcing them to examine their laws regarding ex-offenders and employment. Advocates claim passage would bring recidivism rates down.

In California, 61 percent of felons returned to prison within three years, according to a 2014 annual state report on recidivism.

The study found that “inmates committed to prison for property crimes consistently recidivate at a higher rate than those committed for other types of crimes, including crimes against persons, drug crimes, and ‘other’ crimes.”

The move to a national retooling of restrictions on ex-offenders is not welcomed by all parts of the legal community.

Too soft on criminals?

“This was like a liberal do-gooder thing,” James Bopp, a Terre Haute, Ind., lawyer told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. “The law is constructed in a way to grossly favor the criminal who is seeking relief from these collateral effects of their conviction.”

The passage in November of Proposition 47 pruned the ranks of the incarcerated even more, as the law softened criminal classifications for some crimes including drug possession and shoplifting. It also made the theft and reception of stolen goods under $950 a misdemeanor.

Under Prop. 47, part of the projected $400 million to $700 million projected to be saved statewide by cutting down on the state’s incarceration bill is to be spent on mental health and substance abuse services.

Such services, while they can help treat an ex-offender, also exclude the ex-offender community: A misdemeanor conviction excludes a person from becoming a vocational nurse, treating an adolescent in a drug treatment program or obtaining a psychiatric technician license.

Additional legislation

Lawmakers are still making adjustments to the effects of the bill, plugging holes and shaping the mandate. Some are concerned that a provision in the measure would allow the theft of a gun to be lumped in with stealing a bag of Twizzlers in the under $950 category.

A measure authored by state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani is winding its way through the statehouse, seeking to fix that, making the theft of any firearm a crime not subject to the parameters of Prop. 47.

Another bill, SB205, looks to fund a university study of the effects of Prop. 47.

Still another bill, SB527, seeks to allocate money from the expected corrections savings for truancy and dropout prevention, funding over four jobs for that task alone.

Collateral consequences are also often unintended consequences, said Ball, the associate professor at the Santa Clara law school.

“I’d like to raise the bar higher so you have to make a case for ‘why not?’ rather than reasons to impose,” Ball said. “These collateral consequences really do prevent people from starting over.”

Steve Miller can be reached at 517-775-9952 and His website is

Originally published by