But as the New York Times points out the problem with the prison system in California, and many places across the U.S., is that we are spending too many dollars incarcerating nonviolent offenders while reducing the monies needed to handle truly violent and dangerous offenders.
The case of Phillip Garrido is clearly a complicated one given Garrido served sentences in state prisons and a federal penitentiary. The intersection of the law in this case makes for some confusing and often seemingly conflicting sentences. Such is our complex set of laws that govern our correctional system in the U.S. If you look closely you'll find a shocking lack of consistency of sentencing as you compare our criminal justice policies from state to state. Once you examine federal prison sentences it gets even worse. That's a problem.
Some of that confusion is played out in the Garrido case. As more details come out we learn that Garrido served 11-years in prison after a 1976 rape and kidnapping conviction for which he received a 50-year sentence as well as a life term in Nevada. How did he do so few years? That is a question that lawmakers, and correctional officials, should and will review. However, it certainly builds the case for a need to spend more resources on keeping the truly violent offenders away from the public.
When we are incarcerating every drug addicted offender and those convicted of property crimes, you know something is wrong. According to the Sacramento Bee (Aug. 26, 2009) the state prison population includes approximately 37% of those convicted of property crimes and drug offenses and another 8% under a category called "other". In California, the cost of incarcerating one inmate is $48,000 a year. You do the math. It's not pretty.
With the Garrido case you see the need for the following two changes. One, more resources need to be put into the parole system. We have reduced funding for parole (and frankly probation) supervision here in California for many years. That's a mistake. The correctional system needs those monies to properly supervise offenders on parole (and probation).
Secondly, what kind of treatment did Garrido ever receive while incarcerated in California, Nevada or the federal prison (Leavenworth)? I can predict the answer to that question. Very little treatment. Another mistake. Some would say treatment is a waste of time. With Garrido it is possible you could not treat him in any way that would change his violent sexual addiction but should we not try?
Not all offenders deemed sexual offenders have Garrrido 's profile. What treatment do they get before they are released? Those offenders serving time for statutory rape, for instance? These questions must be addressed. As ugly as the realty is some sexual offenders will be released back into society. If we are looking at future in corrections where these types of offenders are not released then we must assess which offenders go to prison and which offenders can be held accountable through alternative sanctions.
Lastly, being in the restorative justice arena since the early '90s I have learned many things. Understanding corrections in California is complicated as is understanding the complexity of our criminal justice system nationally. But I have learned to ask one question repeatedly: what about the victims? I've learned to ask that question because I have met the faces of crime, the victims of violent crime. People like Stephen Watt, Michelle Renee, Cheryl Ward-Kaiser, Bill Pelke, Russ Turner and Roberta Roper. All have horrific stories to tell about how they or a family member have suffered as victims of violent crime, yet now they're survivors.
As I heard about the case of the Jaycee Lee Dugard I thought of the needs of a woman who spent 18-years in captivity by a sexual predator, even producing two children by him. What about her? What are her needs now? What does the system do for the victims? Somehow I'll bet that is not the topic of discussion in legislative circles but it should be.
A criminal justice system based on restorative justice sees the whole picture. It sees the need to keep the public safe. It seems the need to provide treatment to those offenders who are in need of it. It also sees the needs of victims like Jaycee Dugard who have been injured by crime: the direct impact of the behavior of a violent offender. Dugard has needs now that she is released. What will the system do to respond to those needs? Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is commonly experienced by victims of violent crime. Do we respond to the needs of victims by addressing this fact?
Many would probably say that we just don't have enough money to address all the needs. I recently had one California lobbyist tell me "we don't have enough money for restorative justice now". Well, frankly, we don't have enough money to continue down the ill-fated path we are currently on. You are seeing California's correctional system run amok. We can no longer watch as crime is used as a political football to elect, re-elect and defeat politicians while the public pays the price. Lawmakers must turn its focus towards solutions that are smart on crime. Systemic reform is required but reform based on a vision for something far better than the system we have in place now. It must be comprehensive and balanced. The only smart answer is systemic reform based on restorative justice.