By Christopher Zoukis Midway through his first term as governor of California, in 1976 Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown Jr. signed into law a strict mandatory sentencing measure. The “determinate” sentencing bill set fixed lengths of time that had to be served before an inmate could be considered for parole. Now, almost 40 years later, Governor…

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OP-ED By Troy Lee Wooley So, the Democrats and Republicans have joined teams to come up with this fabulous new bill, great….NOT!! Corrections Oversight, Recidivism Reduction, and Eliminating Costs for Taxpayers in Our National System (CORRECTIONS) act…A lot of words that add up to spell BULL-PUCKY! The bill says it EXCLUDES ALL sex offenders, terrorist…

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By Christopher Zoukis

In February, the State of California secured yet another extension to the date by which it must comply with the U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce overcrowding in its state prisons.  Prior to the February 10, 2014 ruling, the deadline for reductions in prison overcrowding was set for April, but in the latest decision, three federal judges gave the state an additional two years to comply.

California’s prison population is second only to Texas.  Between 2000 and 2010 the inmate population was relatively stable, with a 2010 population of 165,062, or 0.44% of the state’s population, an increase of just 1.3% since 2000.  Long-running lawsuits against overcrowding, particularly from inmates with serious medical or mental health conditions, forced a reduction.  In 2010, the prison population fell by 9.4% to 149,569, but overcrowding remains a serious problem.  California state prisons are currently 44% over the listed capacity.

The state’s increasingly harsh sentencing laws are a significant part of the problem, but despite long sentences and often miserable prison conditions, California’s recidivism rate is much higher than the national average.  Roughly 60% of released prisoners are back behind bars within three years, compared to 44% nationally.  Nor has the current strategy resulted in safer communities.  Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice for 2011 show that although rates for some crimes are below the national average (13% lower for burglary, 20% lower for larceny/theft, and 24% lower for forcible rape), for other rates, California significantly exceeded those for the nation as a whole: violent crimes are 6.4% higher, robbery 27% higher, and motor vehicle thefts a whopping 70% higher.  Given the dire state of California’s public finances and the clear failure of the prison system, it shouldn’t require a court order to persuade the state to re-think its strategy.

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By Dianne Frazee Walker

If you dare to watch the video featured in an online kit made for child advocacy groups and prison programs for children of incarcerated parents, be prepared with a box of Kleenex handy.  

Sesame Street producers have done an extraordinary job of animating a puppet character that perfectly portrays a dejected child who misses his dad because he is in prison.

Alex is a Muppet with a face shaped like a football, who wears a grey hoodie and has spiked blue hair. His eyes are drooped in sadness.  “My dad is locked up in jail,” Alex mutters in disgrace. “I miss him so much,” he snuffles with his head to his chin. Alex’s human teacher, Sophie, consoles Alex by telling him she understands because her father was in prison, too, when she was little.

The chances are pretty good there would be at least one person who can relate to having a parent in prison because one in every 18 children have a parent incarcerated.

A retired school teacher explained she realized this social disaster is a sign of the times when she overheard her students comparing what color jumpsuits their daddies wore in prison.       

Leave it to the long-running children’s television series Sesame Street to initiate a workshop for children with incarcerated parents. “Little Children, Big Challenges” is an online tool kit intended to help kids with a parent in prison find support and comfort. The videos provide families with strategies and tips for talking to their children about their struggles with having a parent in prison.

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By Dan Froomkin

There’s a growing national consensus that, as Attorney General Eric Holder stated in August, “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason.”

When Holder proceeded to order federal prosecutors to stop triggering mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug offenders, that was big news. But where were the follow-up stories?

It’s a familiar cycle. Despite the heavy toll that mass incarceration exacts every day and in countless ways on many American communities, families and of course the incarcerated themselves, the topic attracts remarkably little consistent coverage in the mainstream media.

“Traditionally, the coverage of this has been crisis driven,” says Ted Gest, the founder of Criminal Justice Journalists, who also oversees a daily news digest for The Crime Report news service.

Recently, a hunger strike in California and other protests called renewed attention to solitary confinement as a human rights issue. And questions about oversight were briefly raised after Baltimore jail guards were busted in April for allegedly helping a charismatic gang leader, who impregnated four of them, run his drug and money-laundering operations.

David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, says he’s seen only a modest increase in news coverage of criminal justice reform despite his sense that the nation is starting to turn the corner on mass incarceration. “I’ve been doing this work since 1990 and there’s been no time that things have looked this hopeful for significant reform in the criminal justice system,” he says.

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By Christopher Zoukis In 1980 the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had a budget of about $330 million and housed around 25,000 federal inmates.  The number certainly wasn’t small, but it was manageable.  In the last 30 years this population has exploded: federal prisoners now number in excess of 219,000, which accounts for the 39%…

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