Portantino Proposes Alternative to Early Release Prison Reform Efforts

PrisonCalifornia’s Overcrowded Prisons
Assemblymember Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) has introduced legislation that shifts the prison reform debate from an early release and sentencing reform emphasis to stopping the revolving door at California’s prisons.

The bill, AB 219, would require the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to establish goals to cut California’s recidivism rates by 20% within the next four years and 40% by 2020. The bill would also require the CDCR to report and verify those rates. California has one of the highest recidivism rates in the country. Two-thirds of California offenders return to prison within 3 years.

“The recidivism problem is causing increased crimes on our streets and crowded prisons,” commented Portantino. “Some folks believe that changing sentencing and increasing early release credits will solve the problem. It’s my belief that real and permanent reform comes from reducing crime and reducing the number of repeat offenders.”

California spends about $10 billion annually, or 7.6 % of the general fund on warehousing prisoners and overseeing parolees. With the state’s severe budget crisis and the Governor’s call for shrinking spending, reducing the number of offenders who are sent back to prison can slash a considerable amount of money from the prison system. On any given day, 456 out of every 100,000 people are behind bars in California. There are 33 prisons and 42 adult camps with a total prison population of around 170,000. The average cost per prisoner is $49,000 per year.

Governor Schwarzenegger wanted to reduce the prison population with no safeguards for local communities or attention to the impact of recidivism. The early release of thousands of inmates also coincided with the cutting of many of the reentry and job training programs.

“Prison reform is not letting people out of prison early; it’s stopping the tidal wave of returning prisoners. So much of the current debate has revolved around alternative sentencing and releasing inmates before they serve their full terms as a way to save money. When seven out of ten inmates return to prison, these approaches don’t reduce overall costs and don’t lower the crime rate. We need to figure out a strategy for lowing the return rate of incarceration and that’s why I’ve proposed this different approach to solving the prison problem,” concluded Portantino.

portantinoPortantino has been an outspoken critic of many of the early release strategizes that have dominated the prison reform debate.

“The failure of the legislature to address the severe overcrowding in our state’s prisons and jails costs the state a tremendous amount of money,” stated Assemblymember Portantino. “A 20% reduction in recidivism for the thousands of offenders released from the state’s prisons will lower our crime rate and save the state millions of dollars.”

Anthony Portantino



    My husband is serving 80% time on a 5 year sentence for a hit and run DUI. Damage to other driver’s vehicle: $600. This is neither his first nor his second sentence for a DUI, but in previous cases he did not have a family. When he married me, I was an abandoned woman with 6 children, two of which have autism. And, we now have one child together.

    I believe he has wholesale repented of his behavior, and reconnected with his Creator, making Him Lord in his life. He has been incarcerated for 2 years now, and works as a fireman in a fire camp. He does not live behind bars. He is labeled a level 1 (very low) threat level. He is a very loving man, with an incredible ability to cope with his situation with a positive attitude and a great deal of faith and hope and a little peace.

    Half of California’s firefighters are inmates that the state pays $1 a day for their skills. They are put on the front lines, while well-paid firefighters take up the safer positions.

    There is a provision for inmates who are sentenced to serve 50% time to have that time reduced to 35% time. If my husband had had this arrangement, he would have been out this past Thanksgiving (2010). But, instead he is sentenced to serve 80% time, though he had heard of and hoped that this was going to be reduced to 60% time. So, he still has another two years to go.

    What I didn’t realize is that when a husband is imprisoned, the family is imprisoned. My husband is a very talented carpenter that works for the Motion Picture and Television Industry, and can easily make $10,000 a month (on which the state could be making income tax). Instead, he makes $30 a month. He cannot provide for his family. He is kept at a fire camp that is 12 hours away from his family, so we have only been able to visit him once, with a lot of wear and tear on all of us, and at a cost of about $300. Each month, I must pay about $100 just to maintain some phone contact with him for myself and the children (who know him as dad, and who respect him greatly).

    The state never said–Look, we’re putting a device on your car so that you can never drive drunk. And, there were mitigating circumstances that led to him driving drunk that were not considered in his sentencing. In addition, when he had his pre-sentence investigation, no one ever interviewed the family to discover the hardship there.

    I have been working full-time, and our home is in dyer need of repairs and maintenance, which my husband could easily do. Yet, they go unfinished. I have been struggling not only with having two children with the disability of autism, but also personally with fibromyalgia for 10 years, and in the past couple of years I have developed hypertension and high blood pressure. About a week ago, I ended up in the emergency room with a blood pressure of 215/124. Thank God that I did not have a heart attack. This visit occurred between coming home from work on a Thursday afternoon and returning to work at 5:30 Friday morning.

    Half of me is in prison. I have gone through bankruptcy. I have lost my car and have been sharing a vehicle with my oldest son–a college student. I have to go on foodstamps for about 3 months each spring/summer. I need my husband home. I need him home now. I need him home now. I need him home now.

  2. says

    Tell the parole agents to stop re-arresting people for any minor reason whatsoever. No other state does this so our “recidivism rates” can’t be compared to any other state. Think about it,

  3. More Questions says

    Oh, how I would love to see the Legislature require the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to establish goals to cut California’s recidivism rates by 20% within the next four years and 40% by 2020. Portantino suggests “The bill would also require the CDCR to report and verify those rates,” … so how about COMBINING Sentence Reform and the immediate release of terminal and very sick inmates with your ideas? How about attaching funding to what the CDCR does well and cut off the funding they fail to accomplish? Let’s make them be accountable.
    The outrageous cost of keeping very sick, near-death inmates in prisons instead of nursing care facilities is worth looking into each case one by one and getting this mess straightened out. That’s where the effort should be placed right now.

  4. says

    I beg to differ with the honorable Assembly Member Porantino who has so courageously tackled this overwhelming problem. Prison reform IS about early release because there are thousands of people put away for non violent crimes. About 54,000 to be more precise and releasing them would save billions of human services and education dollars. Of course the legislature runs off the proceeds from the human bondage industry, but it is embarrassing for people to know that our recidivism rate cannot be compared to that of any other state.

    The reason is that re-arrests are made for any minor reason whatsoever such as being a half hour late to an appointment. Parole agents do not need a judge and jury to throw someone back in prison! Outrageous. Prop 83 was recently ruled unconstitutional after 650 lawsuits were filed challenging it. What we need is a bill that will catch unconstitutional laws WITH NO FUNDING SOURCES before law enforcement labor unions float them for a vote. Re-write this one a little bit and make sure that frail elderly and medically disabled, terminally ill people are released now. You will save billions and we’ll recognize you as someone who is not in the pocket of CCPOA. Prison reform IS about early releases and changes in the sentencing laws.

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