Prison showdown

By From page A4 | September 04, 2013

Under a federal court order to reduce California’s prison population by 10,000, Gov. Jerry Brown has come up with one plan and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has come up with a different one.

We much prefer the governor’s, which has been supported by Assembly Speaker John A. Perez.

The governor’s plan is to spend $315 million to move 8,000 inmates to in-state private prisons and out-of-state prisons. Also being tapped are local prison-like jails that have capacity. The inmate fire camps may be expanded as well.

Steinberg’s plan is to spend $200 million to expand drug treatment and mental health care for prisoners. He also wants an advisory panel to review sentencing laws and another panel to review what size prison population California should have. Steinberg would also give grants to counties for drug rehab and mental health.

We don’t hold out a lot of hope for mental health changing around the thousands of psychopaths and sociopaths that are in prison. Prison is the right place for them. No number of six-figure shrinks and lesser-certified psychology professionals will change that.

Local drug and alcohol diversion courts, however, are a success story. If there are counties that are not employing this technique, then the state should certainly encourage them to study how El Dorado County and other jurisdictions make this work. County jails should receive some financial aid to conduct professional drug and alcohol rehab programs.

We’ll also agree that sentencing laws need to be reviewed. Just don’t mess with the three-strikes law.

Some laws are clearly excessive. For example, we cite the case of the Georgetown man who this month was sentenced to 11 years prison by an El Dorado County judge for his second DUI and driving without a license after getting out of prison. A further part of his sentence included a 10-year ban from obtaining a driver’s license after serving his 11 years in prison, just to make sure he can’t earn a living.

We’ve seen real bad criminals get less prison time for heinous crimes. The sentence followed the law, with a couple of years for this and a couple of years for that and pretty soon it added up to 11 years. Drunk driving is a menace to us all, but this is out of all proportion to the crime. The poor fellow must have thought he wound up in Judge Roy Bean’s court. He would have been better off serving time in the county jail and participating in a rehab program as well as getting outside to pick up trash.

We’re not sure embezzlers should be sent to prison either. County jail and some furlough plan to enable them to pay restitution is a better course. Save the prison for the murderers, rapists, child molesters and assorted psychopaths.

Steinberg already got Proposition 63 passed in 2004 to impose a 1 percent income tax on millionaires. Since 2005 it has raised $9 billion. An audit requested by Steinberg showed the money and the program were sloppily managed. So, how is another $200 million of taxpayer money going to perform any better?

Before frittering away the tax increases Brown talked voters into, the existing Proposition 63 money should be used for local drug and alcohol rehab. No new spending.

Back in May, according to Californian Healthline, “The state Senate unanimously approved a bill, SB 585,┬áby Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, that would let counties use Proposition 63 money for Laura’s Law, which allows courts to require treatment for residents with severe mental health conditions and a history of violence or hospitalization.”

Drug and alcohol addiction is a mental health issue and Steinberg can get a bill through to redirect some of his Proposition 63 money toward these issues. In the meantime, shift the prisoners to other facilities to reduce the California prison population as ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mountain Democrat

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