California Prison Reform: Overcrowded, Overcapacity, and Out of Control


The California prison system is out of control.  From a prison population pushing the limits at just over 200% of the state’s prisons designed capacity in 2006, California has embarked on a path to meet the mandate of the Supreme Court: get prisons to 137.5% of designed capacity… or else. There is no debate that tough-on-crime laws have led to unnecessary imprisonment and excessive sentencing.  However, reformation attempts following the Supreme Court’s mandate have revealed the politics of reducing a prison population are not quite as simple as letting almost 40,000 prisoners free. While initial strategies focused on expanding the prison system in order to humanely accommodate their swelling numbers, recent policy legislation has focused on normalization and rehabilitation as better ways to get imprisonment, and in the long run, overall crime levels, down. My paper examines the major policy actions taken since the 2006 prison population peak, the motivations and outcomes of these policies, and finally, suggests a way for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to get their prison population growth rate under control for the long run.

Paper: Semeraro_White Paper Final California Prison Reform

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