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
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.
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
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
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.
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