Early Release of Prisoners in California and What it Means for the State

Overcrowding has long been a problem in California’s prisons and jails.  In 2006, Gov. Schwarzenegger declared a Prison Overcrowding State of Emergency Proclamation because of the severity of the problem.  As a means to deal with this problem, voters approved Prop. 47 in 2014, downgrading certain drug and property related offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. The end result was that 13,000 fewer people are behind bars today in comparison to 2014, which will save tax payers about $150 million in the first year alone.

This is good news for California as a whole, as too many people are behind bars because of minor offenses and are rarely given a chance to turn their lives around. Once you enter the corrections system, it becomes very difficult to get yourself out. Spending years in jail because of a small drug-related crime doesn’t make sense, especially without providing the proper rehabilitation before releasing the person back into society. This creates a vicious circle where these people are unable to function in society and, therefore, end up back in jail shortly.

Cases of Recidivism

Of course, the main issue with releasing prisoners early is that there is always the chance of a relapse. Luckily, recidivism hasn’t been a major problem once these individuals have been released early, as current data suggests that most of these prisoners are returning to society and making positive contributions.

Many people who end up with prison are hardened by the system and, therefore, see themselves as criminals upon their release. If these individuals are able to spend less time behind bars, or receive a punishment that truly fits the crime, they might be more likely to learn from their mistakes, rather than repeat them.

Perhaps the reason behind this issue is the United States’ attitude toward punishment. As a rule, the country tends to punish crimes more harshly than other Western countries and, therefore, has a much higher incarceration rate. For-profit prisons are one reason for this high incarceration rate, as these prisons have become huge moneymakers for those who own them. Seeking profits through the penal system has often come at the expense of justice.

Giving Hope

What these changes to California law are doing is providing hope for those who have made mistakes. If you commit a crime in California today, you are more likely to be given a second chance. You can speak with a bail bonds company to get yourself out of jail and then, hopefully, have your lawyer get you a reduced sentence along the way.

The end result is that instead of being arrested and spending the next few years behind bars, you might only spend a few months there. In addition, if you are able to secure a bail bond, you will enjoy freedom before your court date.

Additional Problems

This isn’t to say that the system is perfect, as the United States has a different attitude towards incarceration than other Western countries. Currently, the incarceration rate in the USA is seven to 10 times higher than in other similar countries. This doesn’t necessarily mean that more crimes are committed in the United States, just that people are locked up more frequently and for longer periods of time.

The recent changes in California are a step in the right direction and could provide an example for the rest of country for reducing inmate populations

Another thing to consider is that the United States has far greater juvenile incarceration rates than any other Western country. It is especially important that these juveniles don’t become career criminals because they were treated unfairly from the start and are given the chance to succeed in life.

In 2013, over 54,000 juveniles were in custody in the United States. While this is about half of what it was in 1997, it is still far too high for an advanced society such as ours.

California has been particularly hard on youth crimes after passing Prop. 21 in 2000, which called for tougher sentences for juveniles who commit certain felonies. Hopefully, the reclassification of certain crimes will reduce the number of juveniles who are punished as adults, as well.