California, like many states in the country, has faced rising prison populations in recent years. The reason for overpopulation in our prisons is debatable. Some will say there are more criminals, and others will say that harsher sentencing has become the norm. Regardless of the actual reason, states have had to figure out what to do with the surplus of prisoners. In California, according to a story in the Sacramento Bee, one method has been to divert drug criminals from state facilities to local jails.
The story (“California Drug Criminals Now Half As Likely To Serve Time In State Prison”) is reported by Phillip Reese. According to Reese, California has cut the number of prisoners being held in state facilities on drug crimes in half over the past two yeas. This is not due to a drastic drop in drug-related crimes in the state. Rather, these prisoners are being diverted to local facilities.
This is in response to a nearly two-year-old ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court mandating that California reduce overcrowding in the prisons. In order to do so, the focus has been on reducing the number of drug criminals in the state prisons via attrition and diversion, according to the article.
Just how drastic has this reduction been? At the end of 2010, there were approximately 25,000 individuals incarcerated in California prisons on drug charges; on the last day of 2012, there were only about 12,400. This trend does not represent the nation as a whole. According to federal data, “California now incarcerates about 33 drug criminals in state prison per 100,000 residents; the national average is 75 drug criminals per 100,000 residents.”
While California has successfully upheld the Supreme Court’s ruling by reducing the state prison population, there is more information needed on how this has impacted local facilities and the offenders themselves. Are local facilities now overcrowded? Are the local facilities themselves as well as the communities they are based in able to handle both the influx of prisoners as well as the specific type of criminal (drug related)? Are the offenders more or less likely to repeat their crimes? Answers to these questions will truly measure the success of what is happening in California.
Jeffery Callison, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, had this to say: “Putting offenders who have committed lower-level crimes in prison for long periods is not generally the best way to spend tax dollars and protect public safety. Keeping lower-level drug offenders closer to their families and their communities where they can take advantage of local programs and receive drug treatment makes more sense than sending them to prison where they are surrounded by more hardened criminals.”