State Initiatives: California

California has faced the most acute and high profile prison crises of perhaps any state, including federal court orders requiring the state to reduce overcrowding and effectively taking over the state’s inmate health care system. Many states can learn from the California experience and take pro-active steps to avoid federal court intervention that removes the issue from the democratic process and can impose costs beyond the ability of policymakers to manage.

California is also known for the fact that it spends $46,000 per prison inmate compared with $18,000 spent by Texas, but has a substantially higher re-incarceration rate than the Lone Star State.i One major reason for the difference in cost is that California, which unlike Texas, has collective bargaining for state corrections workers and pays its prison guards about twice what Texas does.ii In fact, some California corrections officers make in excess of $100,000.iii In recent years, California’s powerful prison guard union has lobbied against corrections reforms.iv

Nonetheless, facing a court overcrowding order to either release inmates or create more capacity, the state finally began adopting significant reforms in 2009 under the leadership of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. First, performance-based probation funding was unanimously passed.  Under the California Community Corrections Performance Incentive Act of 2009 (SB678), half of the future state savings on prisons from fewer probation revocations are sent back to counties that produced the savings.  Second, geriatric parole legislation signed in September 2010 was estimated to possibly save the state as much as $200 million a year.v

In an October 26, 2010 article, the Merced Sun Star noted: “Few accused California Govs. Ronald Reagan or George Deukmejian of being "soft on crime…During Reagan's tenure, the number of prisoners per 100,000 Californians was 121; during Deukmejian's tenure, it was 230. Last year, it was 436.”vi

Governor Schwarzenegger declared in 2004: “"Our prison population now is more than 167,000 people and still growing year after year. If we imprisoned people at 1994 rates, we'd have 145,000 prisoners. That is a doable goal. Our sentencing rules have doubled the number of aging prisoners in just 10 years. We've now got more than 16,000 prisoners over the age of 50. We're going to turn the tide of increased prison population. We're going to show that California can reduce crime and downsize our prison system."

Now, California policymakers must build on the recent policy advances to overcome decades of failure and turn the corrections tide in favor of taxpayers and public safety.

i Vikrant Reddy, “Federal interference a bad collective bargain,” Odessa American, 3 Aug. 2010,
ii Ibid.
iii Ibid.
iv Ben Carrasco, “Assessing the CCPOA’s political influence and its impact on efforts to reform the California corrections system,” 27 Jan. 2006,
v Kamika Dunlap, “CA State Senate Approves Cost Savings Medical Parole Bill,” FindLaw Blotter, 8 June 2010,
vi “Our View: Candidates' timidity on prison reform: Who has the courage to take on that task anew after the Nov. 2 election?” Merced Sun Star, 26 Oct. 2010,

  • Maintaining Safety While Being Fiscally Responsible

    Posted in California, Criminal Justice News, ROC Blog: October 4, 2014 by Right on Crime

    The last several decades have seen a massive government expansion in crime. Over-criminalization has expanded state and federal prisons, causes a burden to taxpayers and a concerning cycle of recidivism. Because states can no longer finance this overkill response to low-level non-violent offenses, it is fiscally necessary that they reduce sentences. To accomplish this while […]

    :: Read More
  • Gingrich & Hughes: What California Can Learn from the Red States on Crime and Punishment

    Posted in California, ROC Blog: September 20, 2014 by David Reaboi

    This week, Right on Crime signatories Newt Gingrich and B. Wayne Hughes published an important piece in the LA Times entitled, “What California can learn from the red states on crime and punishment.” In it, they make the case for California’s Proposition 47, the Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative that’s slated for a vote on November […]

    :: Read More
  • A New Push for Conservative Reform in California

    Posted in California, Priority Issues, Prisons, ROC Blog, State Initiatives: July 17, 2014 by Vikrant P. Reddy

    A November ballot initiative in California is directed at reforming the state’s troubled criminal justice system. The California Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, would…

    :: Read More
  • “Let’s be smart on crime”

    Posted in California, Kansas, Oklahoma, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Texas: May 1, 2014 by Right on Crime

    “These principles of being smart on crime find roots from the group Right on Crime. Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas have utilized the principles of quality reentry programs to promote public safety, shrink government and effectively utilize our tax dollars.” Click here to read more from the Visalia Times-Delta.

    :: Read More
  • SF Gate: “Texas Gov. Rick Perry hearts California”

    Posted in California, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Texas: March 19, 2014 by Right on Crime

    The SFGate on Governor Perry getting more “California-ized” as he discusses ‘right on crime’ policies.

    :: Read More
  • SFGate: “Texas an unlikely model for prison reform”

    Posted in California, Law Enforcement, Prisons, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Texas: February 24, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Democratic California Senator Loni Hancock praises Texas for its conservative criminal justice reforms. “Texas is investing in alternatives to incarceration that are proving to be cheaper and more effective at keeping people out of prison. It is also doing a better job of rehabilitating people to keep them from reoffending and ending up back in prison. […]

    :: Read More
  • Texas vs. California

    Posted in California, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Texas: February 7, 2014 by Right on Crime

    From While the California system is bursting at its seams, Texas has closed three prisons. Both states have crime rates that are lower than they had been decades ago, but Texas’ rate is falling faster than national trends. Crime in California is edging up slightly and its prison population is growing. California pays twice […]

    :: Read More
  • Chuck DeVore on the Phil Cowan Show

    Posted in Audio, California, Prisons, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Texas: February 5, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Chuck DeVore shares how Texas reduced its incarceration rate while simultaneously reducing spending — and what California can learn from the Lone Star State.

    :: Read More
  • Chuck DeVore on “The Jesse Lee Peterson Radio Show”

    Posted in Audio, California, Prisons, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Texas: February 4, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Reverend Peterson hosts TPPF’s VP of Policy Chuck DeVore on his nationally syndicated radio “The Jesse Lee Peterson Show” to talk about prison reform.

    :: Read More
  • Human Events: No crime for California to learn from Texas

    Posted in California, Prisons, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Texas: February 3, 2014 by Right on Crime

    This article by Human Events relays the importance of the bipartisan prison reform policies advocated by Right On Crime and Chuck DeVore during his testimony before California’s Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review. “In spite of Texas’ well-deserved reputation as this tough-on-crime state, and some of us would like to think perhaps because of it, […]

    :: Read More

  • View More from California »