Legislative Analyst's Office

Analysis of the 2001-02 Budget Bill

Board of Prison Terms (5440)

The Board of Prison Terms (BPT) is composed of nine members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate for terms of four years. The BPT considers parole release for all persons sentenced to state prison under the indeterminate sentencing laws. The BPT may also suspend or revoke the parole of any prisoner under its jurisdiction who has violated parole. In addition, BPT advises the Governor on applications for clemency and helps screen prison inmates who are scheduled for parole to determine if they are sexually violent predators subject to potential civil commitment.

The 2001-02 Governor's Budget proposes $28 million from the General Fund for the support of the BPT. This is an increase of $979,000, or 3 percent, above estimated expenditures for the current year. The proposed budget-year increase is primarily due to a projected increase in the life prisoner and parole revocation hearing workload and the establishment of a Domestic Violence Unit to investigate potential Battered Woman Syndrome cases.

Workload Adjustments Are Overstated

We withhold recommendation on an $863,382 increase from the General Fund for projected ward and parolee changes, pending receipt of a revised budget proposal and workload projections to be contained in the May Revision.

The Governor's budget includes an additional $863,382 and 7.5 positions to enable BPT to process a projected increase in the number of parole cases. The BPT projects it will have to increase its number of hearings for inmates with life sentences who request release on parole. The BPT also projects a workload increase due to the number of parolees taken into custody for parole violation by the California Department of Corrections (CDC) parole agents. In such cases, BPT is required to determine whether these parolees should be returned to prison.

Request for Funding and Positions Are Overstated. The proposal to increase funding for support of BPT workload increases is based on CDC projections of inmate and parolee populations made in fall 2000. As stated in our analysis of the CDC budget, however, we believe that the CDC population projections overstate the budget year population of inmates and parolees by anticipating a higher growth rate than more recent data would support.

In addition, the CDC population projections do not reflect any potential reductions in parolee population due to the implementation of Proposition 36, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, which was passed by voters on November 7, 2000. Proposition 36 is expected to further slow growth in the prison population by requiring that persons convicted of nonviolent drug possession offenses be placed on probation and receive drug treatment, rather than be incarcerated in state prison. Similarly, the measure will redirect parole violators who commit nonviolent drug possession offenses into treatment rather than return them to prison. Each of these factors has the potential to reduce BPT's hearing workload in the budget year.

Analyst's Recommendation. We withhold recommendation on the BPT proposal for an augmentation for workload increases pending receipt of the CDC's updated spring population projections. Once CDC's population projections are available, we anticipate that BPT will issue an updated proposal which will take into account the effect of Proposition 36 on the inmate and parolee population as reflected in the May Revision. At that time, we will assess whether adjustments to BPT's workload request are warranted and make a recommendation.

Creation of Domestic Violence Unit Justified

We recommend the Legislature approve $281,000 to form a Domestic Violence Unit to investigate Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS) cases. We further recommend the Legislature provide oversight for this program by adopting supplemental report language directing the board to report on its progress in investigating BWS cases.

The Governor's budget proposes $281,000 for the formation of a Domestic Violence Unit to identify, investigate, and monitor cases of inmates who are incarcerated for killing their abusive partners.

Background. In 1991, state law expanded the basis on which an inmate could obtain a pardon or a commuted sentence to include "evidence of Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS)." This included evidence that the criminal behavior of the inmate was the result of physical, emotional, or mental abuse. Chapter 652, Statutes of 1999 (SB 499, Burton), further required the BPT, in reviewing an inmate's suitability for parole, to consider evidence that the inmate had suffered from BWS at the time of the commission of the crime.

Workload Justifies Additional Staff. Since 1991, BPT has received 75 BWS clemency requests. Due to a lack of resources, however, many of these requests were closed after minimal investigation. Currently, there are eight open BWS investigations, but this workload is likely to increase due to the passage of Chapter 652. The BPT estimates that 30 new cases will require investigation in the budget year, in addition to investigations of previously closed cases and ongoing cases.

Analyst's Recommendation. Our review of the proposal indicates it is justified, given the number of women convicted of killing their partners and the number of pending requests for clemency attributed to BWS. However, the department has not indicated how the Domestic Violence Unit workload will be monitored. Because of the Legislature's interest in this issue, we believe the Legislature should be kept informed of the department's progress in responding to the increased BWS cases. We therefore recommend the adoption of supplemental report language requiring the board to report on the progress of its investigations. The following language is consistent with this recommendation:

The Board of Prison Terms shall report to the Legislature annually, beginning March 1, 2002, on its progress in investigating Battered Woman's Syndrome cases. The report shall identify information regarding the number of cases investigated; the length and staff time for each investigation; and the number of cases in which evidence of Battered Woman's Syndrome led to granted parole, commuted sentences or pardons.

Positions to Conduct Parolee Screening Remain Unfilled

We recommend the board report to the Legislature at budget hearings on the status of its compliance with the permanent injunction related to a class-action lawsuit, including reasons why it has not filled the parole agent positions needed to comply with the injunction.

Background. On December 23, 1999, a U.S. district court issued a permanent injunction, originating from a 1994 class-action lawsuit, brought by inmates against the CDC and BPT. The injunction concluded that BPT had not complied with sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Specifically, it stated BPT had not provided "equal access" for disabled inmates and parolees in the hearing process. The court required BPT corrective action to identify and accommodate inmates and parolees with hearing, speech, vision, mobility, learning, or developmental disabilities.

In the 2000-01 Budget Act, the Legislature appropriated $7.5 million to BPT for increased workload associated with complying with the injunction. Among other components, the augmentation included $1.8 million to hire 29 Board Coordinating Parole Agents (BCPA) who would conduct "face to face" screenings of parolees to ensure that they were fully aware of their rights in the parole hearing process.

High BCPA Vacancy Rate. Currently, the BPT has filled 4 of the 29 BCPA positions approved for 2000-01. The cause of the high vacancy rate for these positions is unclear. One possible reason is that BPT is experiencing a smaller workload than previously anticipated. A second possible reason is that the BPT has not been conducting face to face screening reviews for parolees, which would mean the department may be out of compliance with the court-issued injunction.

Analyst's Recommendation. We recommend that the department report at budget hearings on the status of the BPT's compliance with the terms of the recent court injunction, and address why the department has not filled the approved BCPA positions.

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