California’s prisons are overburdened because state policies have created an endless cycle of incarceration that does little to promote public safety. An estimated one-third of inmates in California prisons are nonviolent recidivists who have never been sentenced for a violent crime. Meanwhile, as a result of sentencing changes in the late 1970s and early ’80s, the prison population has quadrupled, the parolee population has more than quadrupled, and general fund expenditures for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) have ballooned from 2 percent to 10 percent, or more than $10 billion today. State institutions are at double their capacity, resulting in such poor performance that portions of the state’s criminal justice system are now run by federal mandate. The threat of federal takeover of more of the state’s failing prison system is real and significant.
Proposition 5, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act, will be decided by voters in the November 4, 2008 General Election. The proposition contains within it some of the important reform measures that numerous advisory committees have for years urged the state to implement.2 These reforms would help to break the state’s appallingly high prison recidivism rate by bringing California’s parole terms and sanctions for parole violation more in line with other states’, which have managed incarcerated populations more effectively. Proposition 5 would also build on the cost-saving drug treatment programs approved by voters in 2000 under Proposition 36, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act.