Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review May 15, 2003 / 13 Iyar, 5763

Jonathan Turley

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

A see-no-evil parole system | This week, Gov. Gray Davis is contemplating the ultimate Zen paradox: If an ex-con violates his parole and no one is around to see it, does it still count?

For Davis, this is not just some metaphysical mind-teaser for an afternoon in the lotus position. It may be the long-sought solution to a growing crisis in the California criminal justice system.

California has the highest recidivism rate of any state, with an estimated 70% of released prisoners returning to prison within three years. With a budget shortfall and rising recidivism, someone in the Davis administration had a brainstorm for instant crime reduction: No parole supervision means fewer parole violations.

Sure, the crimes and violations would still occur and probably increase. However, on paper, California could report a violation rate as perfect -- and as manufactured -- as a Hollywood movie set.

Welcome to Zen and the art of correctional maintenance. Davis is struggling to deal with what can only be described as a meltdown in his criminal justice system. California now holds 164,000 prisoners, virtually the same number of people as the entire federal prison system.

Each year, California prisons release more than 125,000 inmates into society, with the expectation that more than 82,000 will be back soon after they commit new crimes or break parole.

Those who bear the cost of these crimes are not politicians but average people victimized by repeat offenders. Few Californians realize that their injuries and losses could have been avoided with the exercise of a modicum of leadership and common sense.

The origins of this crisis can be traced to California's imposition of its three-strikes law and other measures that pushed its prisons to the breaking point. All 33 of California's prisons are seriously overcrowded, and a third of them hold more than double their design capacity.

As a result, prison officials have had to implement warehousing policies and have eliminated programs designed to reduce recidivism. Once a prison reaches severe overcrowding levels, mandatory releases begin -- including some prisoners with high recidivism potential.

Once a prisoner is released into the parole system, California relies primarily on divine intervention rather than standard rehabilitation to guide ex-cons. Each parolee is simply given $200 and a bus ticket -- just enough to have a good time and a good crime at state expense.

California's parole budget has already suffered severe cutbacks that almost guaranteed failure. In the 1990s, the budget was slashed by 44%. As it stands now, each parole officer has to monitor more than 80 parolees, reducing his or her work to little more than record-keeping. Not surprisingly, parole officers are more than happy to send back parolees for even the slightest violation -- California revokes parole twice as often as any other state.

For years, experts have called for the reform of the parole supervision system. There is a general consensus that the state is "parole revocation happy" and that many technical violations should not result in re-incarceration. Instead, the state needs a real supervision system in which parole officers have the ability to actually monitor and work with parolees. However, this takes money and political responsibility.

Instead, Corrections Director Edward Alameida reportedly told his wardens last week that the state was considering no supervision as the solution to supervision problems and costs. It turns out that the state could save $483 million by eliminating parole supervision -- a modest proposal given the possible savings of billions by eliminating prisons altogether. Of course, the costs of the unmonitored parolees would be borne by victims, but they are a strictly off-budget item.

Conversely, the new proposal would be a windfall for California's gangs. Gangs have long used California prisons as recruiting schools. Prison releases are critical in replenishing the ranks of the gangs, which now have more than 100,000 members -- the equivalent of 10 army divisions patrolling the streets of California. Because many of these members are on parole supervision, they would now be left to the Davis honors system.

This reckless proposal to eliminate the parole supervision system is something only a recidivist would love. Of course, for a state official, it is the very model of efficiency. In fact, a see-no-evil approach could be the solution to a host of social problems from illiteracy to teen pregnancies.

In the Zen-like state envisioned by these officials, there is no public problem that cannot be solved with a little less attention and effort.

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Jonathan Turley is a professor at the George Washington University Law School. . Comment by clicking here.

05/08/03: An American Gulag?
05/01/03: CUNY Law gives grads a cynical parting gift
04/22/03: Congress Must Send Spammers a Message
04/16/03: End Apartheid in the State Prisons
04/07/03: NBC's sacking of Peter Arnett over a critical analysis plays well in Baghdad
03/07/03: Rights on the Rack: Alleged torture in terror war imperils U.S. standards of humanity
02/25/03: How democracy could clear our snowy streets
02/11/03: Sanity and Justice Slipping Away
01/28/03: Quit horsing around, senator
01/14/03: Public Payroll: a Family Affair; Nepotism in Washington poses a threat to institutional integrity
01/09/03: DARPA and democracy
12/24/02: The 13th juror
12/19/02: Back to the admissions morass
12/10/02: Pro-Choice at Expense of Free Speech; NOW case against abortion protester may backfire
12/02/02: A cruel bait and switch for vets
11/15/02: Junk justice
11/07/02: OUR second-class soldiers
10/30/02: 'Quirin' revisited: The dark history of a military tribunal
10/22/02: Un-American Arrests: Mass detainments of the innocent may be the ultimate form of crowd control, but the tactic is unconstitutional
10/16/02: Reverse pawn shops? Broke state officials across the country have been looking for businesses to buy their assets at a fraction of their worth to pay for budget shortfalls
10/08/02: A legal tattoo hullabaloo
10/02/02: Gagged justice sets dangerous precedent
09/25/02: The Great Salmon Rose Caper
09/17/02: Reparations: A Scam Cloaked in Racial Pain
09/12/02: This country's hidden strength
09/04/02: 1st Amendment protects even the ugliest among us
08/28/02: A secret court goes public
08/20/02: I defended Ashcroft during his nomination; he's become a constitutional menace
08/07/02: San Francisco embracing states-rights
07/31/02: Who needs Jenny Craig when you can have Johnnie Cochran?
07/22/02: The meaning of justice and the madness of Zacarias Moussauoi
07/16/02: The President vs. the Presidency
07/08/02: How one woman's whims dictates the rights of millions
07/02/02: Just say 'no' to extracurricular activities
06/24/02: Missing Ted Bundy
06/10/02: A comedy of eros06/14/02: 05/31/02: Beyond the 'reformed FBI' hype
05/23/02: Do we really need a Federal Marriage Amendment?
05/19/02: No "battlefield detainee" should leave home without a U.S. birth certificate
05/10/02: The perfect constitutional storm
04/26/02: 'Slave of Allah' wounds justice
04/12/02: The importance of being nameless
04/05/02: The adjusted value of justice
03/18/02: How Clinton got off: A law professor's take
03/11/02: Profiling and the terrorist lottery
03/05/02: Yes, Sharpton, there was a failure of justice
02/28/02: The Lay of the land
02/14/02: Living in constitutional denial
02/05/02: Legal Lesson for Afghanistan: War's Not a Slip-and-Fall Case
01/25/02: Sever "Jihad Johnny"'s ties to his homeland
01/21/02: "Out of sight, out of mind," but they're still prisoners
01/14/02: Your papers, please!
01/07/02: Prescription for disaster
12/18/01: Madison and the Mujahedeen
12/07/01: In the U.S., espionage crime is easy to understand but difficult to prove
11/19/01: What type of 'creature' would defend bin Laden?
11/19/01: Could bin Laden be acquitted in a trial?
10/28/01: The ultimate sign of the different times in which we are living
10/25/01: Al-Qaida produces killers, not thinkers
09/28/01: The Boxer rebellion and the war against terrorism
08/31/01: Bring back the silent Condit
08/27/01: Working out the body politic

© 2002, Jonathan Turley