In recent years, California’s prisons have seen intense overcrowding — to the point that federal judges ruled the quality of life in violation of prisoners’ civil rights.
In 2011, Governor Brown introduced a reduction plan that included moving prisoners with nonviolent charges to county jails and probation centers. Now, with two more years to get the population down to 112,100, California is looking into additional methods for reduction, such as good-behavior incentives for prisoners that could lead to early release and parole.
Time.com interviewed five criminal justice experts to see what lessons California could learn from the experiences of other states as it continues on its mission. Here’s a quick look at what the experts had to say.
Lesson: Invest in health solutions
How: In 2003, Texas began addressing the issue of over-incarceration within the state. Texas put hundreds of millions of dollars toward helping prisoners with substance abuse disorders and mental illnesses through in-prison and separate treatment options. Texas expanded drug courts and accountability programming, and people who took part in these programs were almost eight times less likely to be re-incarcerated than those who did not. As a result of this focus on health, incarceration rates and violent crime dropped, saving taxpayers $2 billion.
Lesson: Explore alternatives to incarceration
How: Time.com reports that Mississippi has the second highest incarceration rate in the country. This year, Mississippi passed reform that would reduce incarceration for low-level offenses by implementing alternatives to prison. Mississippi is also looking into stronger programming for former prisoners to prevent them from returning to old patterns that originally led them to prison.
Here are their three steps:
- Make successful reentry a priority.
- Build supporters of alternatives to prison among many sectors of society: education, health, economy.
- Create safer and healthier environments for prisoners.
Lesson: Focus on rehabilitation
How: The state of Washington zeroed in on programming to help rehabilitate those caught up in a life of crime and started viewing prison as a last resort. Washington found that cognitive-behavioral programs in prisons can reduce the number of ex-prisoners returning to prison by an average of 6.3 percent. A RAND study showed that prisoners who participate in education programs are 43-percent less at risk of returning to prison after release. Every dollar spent on these programs turned into $4 to $5 of savings for taxpayers.
Prison Fellowship hopes to see even more states taking a close look at health solutions, alternatives to incarceration, and rehabilitative programming to make prisons healthier and communities safer, too. Prison Fellowship works in all 50 states to provide life-skills classes, reentry programs, and mentorship opportunities for prisoners and former prisoners who need help restarting their lives on a solid path to success.
Will you join us in restoring the hearts, minds, and lives of prisoners, former prisoners, and their families? Find out how you can help at www.prisonfellowship.org.