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Hilbert Morales  EO Publisher

Hilbert Morales
EO Publisher

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California passed, in 1994, the ‘Three Strikes law’ now used by its courts. The out-come since then has been the conviction of too many individuals who committed minor offenses which were non-violent, non- sexual, and often based on minor amounts of drug possession. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has received a Federal Court order requir-ing the relief of the resultant prison overcrowding. The prisons are now   warehos-ing 133,000 individuals. Prison officials have not been able to reduce the prison population at all, despite enacting a ‘realignment program’ (2010). ‘Realignment’ sends back to local county jurisdictions selected prisoners, who are not violent, sex offenders, nor drug addicts. The County of Santa Clara jails received some 1,400 individuals, who are now looked after by its Probation officers.

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Since the ‘warehousing’ of convicted individuals is the major activity of jails and prisons, it seems prudent to analyze why so many individuals of color, mainly Hispanics and Blacks, make up some 65% of the prison population. It is also necessary to assess the role of law enforcement agencies (sheriff, police, drug enforcement agency, immigration, etc.) which make many more arrests of ‘persons of color’ than of Anglos or other ethnic groups. In addition, there is a basic impact of local education, economy and social norms. Hispanic communities are usually categorized as ‘low-income’ (<$25,000) or disadvantaged. Here information provides an effective path to economic, social and civic equity and justice. It is essential that California use its resources to implement prison alternatives.

If California is to cope with its prison overcrowding, then it must address all current system components. It usul-ly begins with an individual’s personal assessment that he/she is at a disadvantage. And quite often, this is indeed the case because of ignorance and lack of knowledge or discipline. Social, educational (especially behavioral issues), and local skill training programs, which are coupled with an emphasis on what is ‘good behavior’ are required. It is these that lift an individual out of the ‘cycle of crime and poverty’. It may expand the use of behavioral health knowledge which, when customized to an individual’s needs, results in having that individual become a ‘law-abiding person’ who is no longer a ‘ward of the community’.

Too many ‘persons of color’ end up in jail because of small transgressions which result in incarceration rather than being placed in a behavioral modification program, coupled with community service and vocational training which enables gainful employment. Sentence monitoring by probation officials is less costly than incarceration and more flexible. Recent electronic devices, such as GDP ankle bracelets, make possible the monitoring of an individual at all times.

Officials can monitor a sentenced individual in the community at lower costs ($6,000 each per year). This “imprisonment without prison walls” approach minimizes the impact of the current ‘prison university system’ which allegedly teaches minor offenders the ‘know-how’ required to become a better criminal.The Hispanic community must tell elected officials to do away with that ‘Three Strikes Law’. The Hispanic community can act now to prevent the building of more prisons by providing adequate support for its local schools. The mission of schools must be to gradu-ate its students with a high school degree that certifies the graduate can read, write, do math, and be able to communicate as a member of an employee team. In addition, local parole, probation and behavior modification programs must be coupled with vocational and skills training programs such as San Jose CC and Charter School. The release of prisoners must be modified to include assist-ance in finding a job, housing, and relationships with family and community. Discharging an individual with $200 and a pat on the back is not enough to minimize recidivism.

We all must be aware that just lowering the state prison population (133,000 last June, 2013) is ineffective unless the entire community justice system is addressed and modified. The projection is that California will have a prison population of 148,000 if current trends in the police arrests, District Attorney prosecutions, Court adjudications system do their usual sentencing of individuals. Be aware that a private sector ‘prison service’ industry now exists and operates at a profit by ‘warehousing’ prisoners serving their sentences.

It is necessary for the Hispanic community to begin to exert its influence to have the entire system addressed. The community must become concerned about changing the current ‘Justice and Prison’ system. The effective solutions and best practices are not within the current prison system.

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