Arguing that spending on prisons is out of control, civil rights leaders gathered in San Francisco today to unveil a campaign in support of federal legislation to review the nation’s criminal justice system.

At a news conference at City Hall, NAACP representatives joined local political leaders in support of the National Criminal Justice Commission Act. They warned that the difficulties facing California’s prison system mirror those across the nation.

“It seems like the number-one priority in California is incarceration,” said Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP.

Huffman was among several speakers who said money would be better spent on education and rehabilitation.

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee, said 11 percent of the state’s general fund now goes to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, yet California’s prison population has the highest recidivism rate in the nation, which he said is 66 percent.

“We want to invest on the front end,” on education and health care, Leno said.
Also noted was the disproportionate impact on communities of color.

In San Francisco, one of every 16 black men “is in my jail today,” said Sheriff Michael Hennessey. He contrasted that number with one in 500 white men incarcerated.

The legislation, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-VA, would establish a blue-ribbon bipartisan commission to perform an 18-month “comprehensive review” of the country’s criminal justice system.

The review would examine criminal justice practices, policies and costs of federal, state and local governments, according to Webb’s office.

A truck ferrying a large billboard supporting the legislation will head out across the Bay Area over the next few days. A similar event was scheduled in Los Angeles today.

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  • Allen Jones

    The Supreme Court will rule on whether to uphold the three-judge panel ordering the State of California to release 40,000 prisoners in a period of two years. If they say let the prisoners out there is no plan in place to do so but county by county this can be done SAFELY.

    Governor Schwarzenegger, many politicians, and more prisons advocates are claiming public safety is at risk. I do not believe that, here is why:

    Currently there are on average 275,000 outstanding felony warrants on any given day in the state. If we were to release on average per 7 inmates per week per county (58) times 52 weeks in a year over two years that adds up to 42224 released prisoners. Then multiply that by the amount these inmates (non-violent non-serious) offenders are costing us to house them over that same period at $50,000 a year each, it comes to a savings of $2,111,200,000.00. Now even if half of them reoffend with no services the reduction is still over a billion dollars.

    If we take a portion of the total savings, $5,000,000 on average returned to each county specifically for rehabilitation programs the total tab would be in the neighborhood of $290,000,000.00. This added to our current rehabilitation budget is a fraction of the 2 billion we are currently spending to housed those that the federal court has ordered release.

    We would rather give the California prison system over $2 billion over the next two years to house 40,000 non serious offenders than spend a fraction of that, a mere $300 million on rehabilitation.

    NOW THAT’S A CRIME!

  • Allen Jones

    The Supreme Court will rule on whether to uphold the three-judge panel ordering the State of California to release 40,000 prisoners in a period of two years. If they say let the prisoners out there is no plan in place to do so but county by county this can be done SAFELY.

    Governor Schwarzenegger, many politicians, and more prisons advocates are claiming public safety is at risk. I do not believe that, here is why:

    Currently there are on average 275,000 outstanding felony warrants on any given day in the state. If we were to release on average per 7 inmates per week per county (58) times 52 weeks in a year over two years that adds up to 42224 released prisoners. Then multiply that by the amount these inmates (non-violent non-serious) offenders are costing us to house them over that same period at $50,000 a year each, it comes to a savings of $2,111,200,000.00. Now even if half of them reoffend with no services the reduction is still over a billion dollars.

    If we take a portion of the total savings, $5,000,000 on average returned to each county specifically for rehabilitation programs the total tab would be in the neighborhood of $290,000,000.00. This added to our current rehabilitation budget is a fraction of the 2 billion we are currently spending to housed those that the federal court has ordered release.

    We would rather give the California prison system over $2 billion over the next two years to house 40,000 non serious offenders than spend a fraction of that, a mere $300 million on rehabilitation.

    NOW THAT’S A CRIME!

  • Frank Courser

    California once was the envy of the nation for its schools and its prisons. States all over America wanted to copy our success. Prisons were truly places for rehabilitation. There were only 12 prisons with 22,500 inmates and their spending barely registered on the state budget. Inmates left prison and few came back. They were educated and trained in vocations. Some say it was the crack wars of the eighties others say it was Three Strikes and the war on drugs. Crime became the hot topic in the media and crime coverage increased almost 500%. With this media induced fear came new laws exploited by law enforcement. The prison guards union paid for and produced the ads to sell us Three Strikes, claiming it would put away for life those that murder, rape and molest children. No state has ever followed California’s version for good reason. In reality thousands of petty criminals were swept up in the first 10 years bloating our prisons in which today one quarter of the prison population are strikers 2nd and 3rd. Simple drug possession, shoplifting, receiving stolen property were used to win life sentences longer than those of 1st degree murder. That is not what voters had in mind! Prison populations must be reduced. Sentencing reform would go a long way in returning us to those days when we lead the nation in education and rehabilitation.

  • Frank Courser

    California once was the envy of the nation for its schools and its prisons. States all over America wanted to copy our success. Prisons were truly places for rehabilitation. There were only 12 prisons with 22,500 inmates and their spending barely registered on the state budget. Inmates left prison and few came back. They were educated and trained in vocations. Some say it was the crack wars of the eighties others say it was Three Strikes and the war on drugs. Crime became the hot topic in the media and crime coverage increased almost 500%. With this media induced fear came new laws exploited by law enforcement. The prison guards union paid for and produced the ads to sell us Three Strikes, claiming it would put away for life those that murder, rape and molest children. No state has ever followed California’s version for good reason. In reality thousands of petty criminals were swept up in the first 10 years bloating our prisons in which today one quarter of the prison population are strikers 2nd and 3rd. Simple drug possession, shoplifting, receiving stolen property were used to win life sentences longer than those of 1st degree murder. That is not what voters had in mind! Prison populations must be reduced. Sentencing reform would go a long way in returning us to those days when we lead the nation in education and rehabilitation.

  • Allen Jones

    Amen! Frank

  • Allen Jones

    Amen! Frank