Former Police Chief: Release Low-Level Offenders From Overcrowded California Prisons

San Francisco’s former police chief and current district attorney George Gascón has an alternative solution to California’s overcrowding prison problem: Instead of buying new prison beds and shifting inmates to private prisons, as the governor has proposed, California should focus on rehabilitative efforts for low-level drug offenses and not imprisonment.

In an op-ed published Tuesday by The Sacramento Bee, Gascón makes the argument from a law enforcer’s 30-year perspective that the incarceration rate devastates communities and the already-strained prison system:

I have seen firsthand the impact of drug use on communities, the devastation of addiction, and the correlation between addiction and other crimes. Time and again, I have seen low-level drug offenders arrested and convicted, spend a few months or years incarcerated, and then come out and go right back to a life of drug addiction and crime.

Cycling addicts in and out of jail does not reduce crime or make the public safer. It makes it harder for them to get their lives back on track and become contributing members of our community. It’s time to do something different.

To make our communities safer, California must invest that half-billion dollars in education, treatment and job training. Our families can’t afford to waste another cent on failed, outdated solutions.

As one of the largest and most overcrowded prison systems in the country, California has been ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce the prison population to a mere 137.5 percent of capacity and end overcrowding so severe that it was deemed cruel and unusual punishment. And yet, Brown has defied the court order to release 10,000 more inmates before the end of the year. He proposed that adding more prison beds and move prisoners to private prisons — notorious for abuse — addresses that issue. But critics like Gascón and state Democratic lawmakers have proposed rehabilitation and treatment as the alternative.


Overcrowding isn’t the only controversial criminal justice issue for the state. Tens of thousands of inmates have participated in hunger strikes to protest poor treatment and long-term solitary confinement.