Portantino announces prison reform bill

Billed as a money-saving alternative to sentencing reduction and the early release of state prison inmates, newly proposed legislation by state Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D- La Cañada Flintridge) would require prison officials to instead focus on lowering their dismal recidivism rates.

With as many as two-thirds of prison inmates ending up back behind bars within three years of release, according to Portantino, keeping offenders from reoffending would prevent crime and save the state millions of dollars.

“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,” Portantino said in a news release announcing the bill.

Assembly Bill 219, also known as the California Recidivism Goals Development and Achievement Act, would require the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to formulate plans for reducing recidivism by 20% in four years and 40% by 2020.

The state spends about $10 billion each year to lock up prisoners and supervise parolees.

On top of budget pressures, the state also faces a 2009 federal court ruling that may require the release of 46,000 state prison inmates in order to relieve dangerous levels of overcrowding.

Portantino has been a vocal opponent of the state’s plans for early release of prisoners, arguing that simultaneous cuts to reentry and job-training programs compound the early release program’s threat to public safety by doing little to prevent inmates who are released from committing new crimes.

According to the text of AB 219, a 2009 Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation survey found that inmates who received substance abuse treatment behind bars and after release were significantly less likely to return to prison.

The bill faces a vote in the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee as early as March 4.

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