Criminal Justice (archive 2016-04-24)

Our criminal justice system is inhumane, ineffective, and prohibitively expensive. Retribution has replaced rehabilitation. Prison terms are becoming longer and longer. Californians are paying over $5 billion per year to operate the state's correctional system. About 160,000 adults and 8,000 youth are currently incarcerated in California. The majority are serving terms for minor property and drug crimes or violations of their conditions of parole or probation. Poor and under-educated minorities are overrepresented.

The effects of imprisonment are largely negative. Rape is a serious problem in prisons. Many prison policies, such as racially segregated housing, condone and actively promote racism. Prisoners are increasingly isolated from the communities they come from and are often denied contact with the outside world or the media. Access to educational and legal materials is disappearing. Boredom and hopelessness prevail. The United States has the highest recidivism rate (number of prisoners returning to prison) of any industrialized country. The increasingly widespread privatization of prisons renders some prisoners virtual corporate slaves. These prisons treat people as their product, and provide far worse service than government run prisons. Profits are derived from understaffing and severely reducing the quality of life of inmates.
Regressive laws, such as "Three Strikes", and mandatory sentences are removing sentencing discretion from trial judges and giving it to prosecutors. The Three Strikes law in California is an especially bad one. Approved by both the Legislature and the voters in 1994, it increases the sentences of criminals who have previously been convicted of "strikes," which are serious or violent felonies. With one strike, any new felony must be punished at double the normal sentence. A defendant with two strikes must be given a sentence of at least 25 years to life. The new felony which triggers the 3-strikes law need not itself be a serious or violent felony.
The attorney general and local district attorneys are placing too much emphasis on drug related and petty street crimes and not enough on prosecution of corporate, white collar, and environmental crimes. Defrauding someone of their life savings is the same as robbery. Spraying pesticides while workers are in the fields, negligently maintaining dangerous workplaces that result in a worker's death or maiming, or dumping toxic substances in a community should be treated the same as other crimes "causing great bodily injury."
There is a need to reconcile victims, perpetrators, and communities. There is also need to convert prisons and jails into healing communities, and to change from the mentality of breaking people to healing them. We consider prisoners to be citizens and that they possess a citizen�s right to vote during imprisonment.
The Green Party proposes:
For Alternatives to Incarceration:
Prisons should be the sentence of last resort, reserved for physically violent criminals. Those convicted of non-violent offenses should be handled by other programs including halfway houses, electronic monitoring, work-furlough, community service and restitution programs. Substance abuse should be addressed as a medical problem requiring treatment, not imprisonment, and a failed drug test should not result in revocation of parole. Presently incarcerated prisoners of the drug war should be released to the above programs. No immigrant should be imprisoned because of immigration status. Non-violent convicted sex offenders whose consensual sex acts became legal under lowered age of consent laws such as in California in 2009 should be released.
Prisons are presently serving some of the population formerly held in California's mental health system. Ninety-five percent of those who commit suicide in jail or prison have a diagnosed mental disorder. Mentally ill prisoners need separate psychiatric facilities providing psychological and medical care, rehabilitation, and release to appropriate community mental health facilities
The aging of our prison population will lead to huge needless expenditures in the next decade. Prisoners too old and those too infirm to be a threat to society should be released to less expensive, community based facilities.
Juvenile offenders must not be housed in needlessly restrictive settings. They must never be housed with adult offenders. Their education must continue while in custody.
The judge and a caseworker should continue to oversee their assigned juvenile's placement and progress to adulthood
California's parole system is a failure. Reduction of recidivism should be a goal of parole. Parole should be treated as a time of reintegration into the community, not as a continuation of a person's sentence. Parolees need community reentry programs before release. Paroled prisoners should be eligible for education, drug treatment, psychological treatment, job training, work, and housing. Their persons and homes should not be subject to search without probable cause. Available services should also be recommended to the members of a parolee's family, to help them with the changes caused by the parolee's return.
When hiring advocates to assist prisoners convicted of similar crimes, ex-prisoners with zero recidivism over a ten-year period should be given priority as applicants.
For Prison Conditions:
Private prisons should be illegal
Prison conditions must be humane and sanitary and should include heat, light, exercise, clothing, nutrition, libraries, possessions and personal safety. Prisoners must have access to programs proven to decrease recidivism including psychological, drug-abuse, and medical treatments; sex-addiction recovery programs; condoms; and prescribed medication. Long-term denial of prisoner accessibility to human services and to their prisoner peers must be used only for special cases, a situation that must have regular review.
Prisons should provide the most effective and comprehensive cures for violence and the root causes of incarceration. These curative measures must be nonviolent (for example, counseling, aptitude testing, half-way houses, hospices, retraining, treatment for drug addiction and for clinical conditions, and formal education). Investigations within prisons must be conducted with the minimum of intrusion.
The most violent prisoners should be separated from the least violent prisoners at all times in prisons, including during breaks.
Prison officials must institute and enforce policies that discourage racism, sexism, and homophobia.
The First Amendment rights of prisoners must not be revoked. Prisoners have the right to talk to journalists, write letters, publish their own writings, and become legal experts on their own cases.
Encourage all prisoners to obtain a G.E.D. (high school equivalency diploma) and higher education. Inmates who earn a diploma have a recidivism rate of 10%, compared with 60% for other inmates.
Prisons should be community based where possible. Where not, transportation for visitors should be made available. Unless the reason for imprisonment indicates otherwise, parents should have access to their children if it is in the interest of the child.
Prisoners should retain the right to register to vote, and to vote by absentee ballot. They should retain full rights to vote during parole.
For Legislation:
Establish programs to strengthen self-help and community action through neighborhood centers that provide well funded legal aid, alternative dispute-resolution practices, mediated restitution, community team policing, and local crisis /assault care shelters. Community-based neighborhood prisons close to family and friends of the offender but controlled by neighborhoods or the community (not the police or the state) have allowed offender counseling, education, job-training, and reintegration with a low recidivism incidence.
Establish elected or appointed independent civilian review boards with subpoena power to investigate complaints about prison guard as well as community police behavior.
Maximize restrictions on police use of weapons and restraining techniques such as pepper spray, stun belts, tasers, and choke holds.
Abolish the death penalty. [see Violence in Society plank]
Restore judicial discretion in sentencing, as opposed to mandatory sentencing.
Repeal the California Three Strikes law.
Freedom on bail must be the right of all defendants charged with non-violent crimes. Mental health and social services should be incorporated in the bail agreement. Laws giving prosecutors the power to deny defendants the right to remain free on bail must be repealed.
Stop forfeiture of the property of unconvicted suspects. It is state piracy, and denial of due process.
A moratorium on prison construction. Saved funds to be used for alternatives to incarceration.
Compensation for jurors should be increased and child care provided for those serving on a jury. Employers should be encouraged to continue paying an employees wages while they serve.
Revise "Jessica's law" to allow released sex offenders to find housing, reduce their homelessness, and educate the public and the sex offender about the medical condition.
Stop reimprisonment of parolees on the basis of technical violations only