David Allyn Dokich - Serial Child Rapist / High Risk Sex Offender

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Prison reform needs reform

Corrections system can't do task alone

Mark Martin, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sacramento -- When Roderick Hickman abruptly quit his job as California's top prisons official last month, a chorus of critics chided him for bungling the effort to turn around one of the nation's most dysfunctional law enforcement agencies.

In two years on the job, Hickman had infuriated nearly everyone involved in state corrections. The politically potent prison guards union charged that violence inside prisons had risen under his watch and ridiculed him almost daily on an Internet blog popular with prison employees. Inmate advocates, meanwhile, suggested Hickman said all the right things about reforming the system but ignored basic problems -- one lawyer noted that while Hickman organized a bureaucratic revamping of the department that included a name change, doctors at San Quentin State Prison went without a sink to wash their hands in between seeing patients.

But the consensus that Hickman failed to enact real change misses a key point that illustrates problems both with California's prisons and its politics. To truly fix what's broken behind bars in this state, experts say that the governor and Legislature -- not the head of the corrections system -- need to take action.

"In essence, we're blaming the wrong person for the prison problem," argues Joan Petersilia, a nationally-known corrections expert at UC Irvine. "Prison reform can't really happen inside prisons."

Scholars such as Petersilia who have studied California's overcrowded, $8 billion corrections system have repeatedly concluded that many of the system's troubles stem from poorly thought out criminal justice policies.

Sentencing laws enacted more than 30 years ago, and repeatedly described as a failure, require nothing of inmates, who sit in cells or on yards instead of entering drug treatment or vocational education programs. Corrections administrators have little power to determine when an inmate is truly ready to leave prison, and that results in the daily release of dangerous people back into the neighborhoods they previously terrorized. Overburdened parole agents are required to monitor virtually every parolee, leaving the agents little time to concentrate on the parolees most likely to pose a threat to citizens. That has resulted in this shocking fact: More than 20,000 California parolees are unaccounted for on any given day.

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