Assembly Bill 1914 Introduced by Assembly Member Montanez
This bill is trying to address the problem of reintegration into society of former inmates, by establishing ways and methods to properly educate them and increase their chances of successfully fulfilling the requirements of life outside prison. The author of the bill (Cindy Montanez) declares that the current structure of California's prison education system undervalues education and is hostile to rehabilitation. Focusing on custodial functions will ensure prison growth, while, by implementing short- and long-term educational and vocational services and strategies, recidivism will reduce significantly, as shown by the reduction of the crime phenomenon in more 20 states that have adopted such measures. The California prison system is based solely on punishment, while rehabilitation and education play an insignificant role. The purpose of a judicial system should be the active correction and reintegration into society of the inmates, and not the simple, medieval retributory reaction against the individual. Nonetheless, state-funded education for the inmates can result in not only a reduction of recidivism but also in economic growth, through the increased labor volume provided by former inmates.
The bill intends to create a committee to develop and implement a plan for providing educational services for inmates, including counseling and placement, to give the inmates the opportunity to obtain the equivalent of a high school-diploma or even to provide college-level academic programs, if the inmate shows the potential and is willing to pay for the program. The bill would also set forth goals and objectives for the committee, including ensuring that correctional education programs provide 9th grade literacy skills and marketable vocational skills, evaluating the effectiveness of the educational programs by developing a mechanism to test offenders for academic achievement and developing a five-year comprehensive plan for a unified correctional school system. The committee would also be required to report to the Legislature on or before January 1, 2006, with recommendations for further restructuring of correctional education on issues such as attaining parallel education structures between correctional and public education, funding sources, and correctional education curriculum.
The active involvement of the state in the raising of the level of education for the inmates, should, at least in theory, be held accountable for the desired effects: lowering recidivism and reintegration of the individuals into society. Audrey Bazos and Jessica Hasuman from the UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research, the Department of Policy Studies, state in their work "Correctional Education as a Crime Control Program" that "According to research, increased educational attainment is associated with a decreased incidence of crime. This can be explained because people choose between committing crimes and pursuing employment in the labor market. The risks associated with criminal activity bear a greater cost when the alternative to crime, having a job, pays more. As a result, choosing to commit a crime is less attractive option to those who would earn a greater amount in the labor market. The association between education and crime can also be derived from research that indicates that increased cognitive skills are associated with decreased crime." Although, from the economic point-of-view, proper education should be sufficient, it is uncertain whether some individuals would successfully reintegrate or would choose the same life as before. This is a problem that criminology is trying to address. For instance, Howard S. Becker states in his book from 1963, "Outsiders," that delinquency is a creation of social structures, structures that mark the individual as a "criminal." It is unsure that education alone will be enough. For most inmates, the state would probably have to make sure that they get a job, for simply allowing an inmate to search for work, even if he is properly educated, is foolish. Unemployment is currently high, so employers are expected to give jobs to individuals without a criminal record, just because they have a choice. The education program is ineffective without the appropriate measures concerning the fate of the inmate after release. Although the program is fine by itself, the Robert E. Burton Committee has to evaluate the real chances of reintegration for the participants in the program, and that involves partnerships with associations and firms, foundations and other institutions which would allow the former inmate to actually use what he/she had the opportunity to learn during the education program. If not, there is a high probability of failure for the program, for the social "marking" of the "criminal" that H.S. Becker mentioned would impede the individual from reintegrating into society. Education alone is not enough. Is has to be followed by measures to help, at least initially, the inmate to start a new life, and that involves mainly helping him / her find a job. Obviously, the higher the education the inmate had access to, the better the job, the more benefit for the society.
The bill states that a new committee shall be created, the Robert E. Burton Committee (the "Committee"), which will be responsible for the implementation of the program. The functions of the Superintendent of Correctional Education, a position introduced by Section 2053.4, are to be attributed to the Committee, which will set the short- and long-term goals for inmate literacy and testing. The Committee is responsible for the proper fulfillment of the program. Its responsibilities include (1) Making recommendations on the use of instructional television, (2) Reviewing and making recommendations relating to the budget, (3) Reviewing and making recommendations relating to the implementation of the interagency agreements. The Assembly Bill 1914 introduces new functions for the Committee, exceeding those of the previous advisory committee. Such functions include (4) Adopting and enforcing all necessary rules and regulations for the management and operation of education programs within the Department of Corrections including operating procedures and the goals of correctional education;
5) Approve education programs of the appropriate levels and types in the correctional institutions and adopt rules and regulations for the admission of inmate students to these educational programs.
6) Enter into agreements with public or private school districts, entities, community colleges, colleges, or universities, as appropriate, for the purpose of carrying out the duties and responsibilities of the board. All agreements and contracts for instructional services shall expressly prescribe the qualifications of the board's expectations for instructors and the educational objectives to be met. In the identification and provision of special education services, the board shall establish all appropriate interagency agreements with service providers.
Although the realization of the academic program is carefully planned and all aspects are taken into consideration, it should be followed by measures designed to support the offenders after release. Paragraph 7 should solve this problem, but it does not cover the main issue and remains a simple statement. The author should have thought of a detailed plan for the placement of the inmates that are a part of the educational program. Parole and aftercare programs aren't enough by themselves. After all, the state spends considerable amounts of money for the education of prisoners. It is only natural that these prisoners are going to make a use of their knowledge. A high-school diploma is not necessary for washing dishes, and therefore there is no need for increased costs. So coherent programs must be developed in order to make the most out of the correctional education program, and that is something for the legislator to consider. (7) In conjunction with parole and other aftercare programs and consistent with the policies adopted by the board, develop and implement a plan for providing transitional educational services for inmates, including, but not limited to, counseling and placement services.
8) Prepare that portion of the budget request of the Department of Corrections for correctional education programs. The budget allocation shall appear as a separate line item in the annual budget for the Department of Corrections. After the annual Budget Bill has been passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, no funds appropriated by that Budget Bill for correctional education programs may be transferred for other educational purposes without the approval of two-thirds of the entire committee. The Governor expressed disapproval towards article 8 more than one time, by stating that "the redistribution of funds appropriated for correctional education programs for other purposes without the approval of two-thirds of the board would impair CDC's abilities to manage its resources." However, education for prisoners would have always been on the "least important list," and therefore subject to constant budgetary cuts. The author of AB1914 was wise to introduce this amendment which prohibits the redirection of funds towards other areas without proper approval.
9) Conduct annual reviews of program cost effectiveness and make recommendations, including, but not limited to, improvement of programs to lower recidivism, consolidation of administrative functions to lower costs, and ways to reduce operational costs.
10) Provide each of the educational opportunities set forth in paragraphs (1) to (4), inclusive, to inmates while in prison and in state-operated transitional facilities and programs. (11) Provide each inmate who has a reasonable expectation of release from custody with the opportunity to…