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Almost four decades ago, the then governor of California signed into law a bill requiring prisons to make punishment and incapacitation, rather than rehabilitation, the primary goals of state penal facilities. As a result, the prison population went from around 20,000 people to 172,000 and the state built 11 new prisons to house inmates.
That governor, who also to happens to be California’s current governor, Jerry Brown, has since referred to the passage of the 1977 bill as an “abysmal failure.”
Much of the prison-overcrowding problem can be traced to that bill as well as strict mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, such as three-strike laws. Under these rules and procedures, a slew of nonviolent people, including many struggling with mental health and addiction issues, were jailed, in some cases, for life.
What is The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016?
In November of 2016, state residents will have the opportunity to vote for The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016. According to the website, this act would implement some of the following measures:
- Incentivizes people in prison to complete rehabilitation and education programs
- Authorizes parole consideration for offenders with nonviolent convictions who have completed the full sentence of their primary offense
- Requires judges rather than prosecutors to decide whether a youth as young as 14-years-old should be tried as an adult
- Mandates that a judge carefully review all of the circumstances of a youth’s crime and life before making a decision on whether that young person should be charged as an adult
“By allowing parole considerations if inmates do good things,” The L.A. Times reports Brown said at the announcement of the plan, “inmates will then have an incentive…to show those who will be judging whether or not they’re ready to go back into society.”
Data suggests that the United States jails more people, at both state and federal levels, for drug offenses than any other country in the world. An estimated 16 percent of inmates in state prisons report that their crimes were committed while trying to obtain drugs.
Unfortunately, few states offer treatment options for those coping with substance abuse problems despite the fact that treatment for addiction issues is more sucessful and cost effective than imprisonment.
Adding to California’s problem is the 2011 Supreme Court mandate that the state reduce its population before the federal government steps in to do it. Even amid this extra pressure to reform the prison system, especially as it concerns nonviolent offenders, critics of Governor Brown’s new plan have little sympathy.
“I understand where the governor is coming from,” Chief Prosecutor for San Bernardino County, Mike Ramos, told The L.A. Times, “but generally speaking this initiative is going to put career criminals back on the streets.”
Despite the contention surrounding the issues of the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act, those in the recovery community overwhelmingly understand the toll that the disease of addiction takes on an individual’s life. The hard truth is that behind bars, there’s very little real recovery that can take place.
Long lasting sobriety requires support, compassion, patience, and in many cases, medically assisted treatment administered by healthcare professionals so patients can safely get through withdrawal.