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California officials fear Jaycee Lee Dugard case may hurt efforts on parole

Sep 02, 2009

By Lisa Rea

Horrific as the case of the abduction of 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard is it does not warrant the California Legislature giving up its responsibility to take up serious reforms of the prison system in the state.

This case which shocked the nation last week as it detailed Dugard's kidnapping in 1991 and her 18 years of captivity in the backyard of convicted sex offender Phillip Garrido in northern California should tell us a number of things. One, we can be grateful that Jaycee Dugard was found. So many of the crime victims I have worked with in the U.S. have not had that same joyful conclusion to their tragic life story. Thank God Jaycee was found.

But as the New York Times points out the problem with the prison system in California, and many places across the U.S., is that we are spending too many dollars incarcerating nonviolent offenders while reducing the monies needed to handle truly violent and dangerous offenders.

The case of Phillip Garrido is clearly a complicated one given Garrido served sentences in state prisons and a federal penitentiary. The intersection of the law in this case makes for some confusing and often seemingly conflicting sentences.  Such is our complex set of laws that govern our correctional system in the U.S.  If you look closely you'll find a shocking lack of consistency of sentencing as you compare our criminal justice policies from state to state. Once you examine federal prison sentences it gets even worse. That's a problem.

Some of that confusion is played out in the Garrido case. As more details come out we learn that Garrido served 11-years in prison after a 1976 rape and kidnapping conviction for which he received a 50-year sentence as well as a life term in Nevada. How did he do so few years? That is a question that lawmakers, and correctional officials, should and will review. However, it certainly builds the case for a need to spend more resources on keeping the truly violent offenders away from the public.

When we are incarcerating every drug addicted offender and those convicted of property crimes, you know something is wrong. According to the Sacramento Bee (Aug. 26, 2009) the state prison population includes approximately 37% of those convicted of property crimes and drug offenses and another 8% under a category called "other". In California, the cost of incarcerating one inmate is $48,000 a year. You do the math. It's not pretty.

With the Garrido case you see the need for the following two  changes. One, more resources need to be put into the parole system. We have reduced funding for parole (and frankly probation) supervision here in California for many years. That's a mistake. The correctional system needs those monies to properly supervise offenders on parole (and probation).

Secondly, what kind of treatment did Garrido ever receive while incarcerated in California, Nevada or the federal prison (Leavenworth)? I can predict the answer to that question. Very little treatment. Another mistake. Some would say treatment is a waste of time. With Garrido it is possible you could not treat him in any way that would change his violent sexual addiction but should we not try?

Not all offenders deemed sexual offenders have Garrrido 's profile. What treatment do they get before they are released?  Those offenders serving time for statutory rape, for instance?  These questions must be addressed. As ugly as the realty is some sexual offenders will be released back into society. If we are looking at future in corrections where these types of offenders are not released then we must assess which offenders go to prison and which offenders can be held accountable through alternative sanctions. 

Lastly, being in the restorative justice arena since the early '90s I have learned many things. Understanding corrections in California is complicated as is understanding the complexity of our criminal justice system nationally. But I have learned to ask one question repeatedly: what about the victims?  I've learned to ask that question because I have met the faces of crime, the victims of violent crime. People like Stephen Watt, Michelle Renee, Cheryl Ward-Kaiser, Bill Pelke, Russ Turner and Roberta Roper. All have horrific stories to tell about how they or a family member have suffered as victims of violent crime, yet now they're survivors.

As I heard about the case of the Jaycee Lee Dugard I thought of the needs of a woman who spent 18-years in captivity by a sexual predator, even producing two children by him. What about her? What are her needs now? What does the system do for the victims? Somehow I'll bet that is not the topic of discussion in legislative circles but it should be.

A criminal justice system based on restorative justice sees the whole picture. It sees the need to keep the public safe. It seems the need to provide treatment to those offenders who are in need of it. It also sees the needs of victims like Jaycee Dugard who have been injured by crime: the direct impact of the behavior of a violent offender. Dugard has needs now that she is released. What will the system do to respond to those needs? Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is commonly experienced by victims of violent crime. Do we respond to the needs of victims by addressing this fact?

Many would probably say that we just don't have enough money to address all the needs. I recently had one California lobbyist tell me "we don't have enough money for restorative justice now". Well, frankly, we don't have enough money to continue down the ill-fated path we are currently on. You are seeing California's correctional system run amok. We can no longer watch as crime is used as a political football to elect, re-elect and defeat politicians while the public pays the price. Lawmakers must turn its focus towards solutions that are smart on crime. Systemic reform is required but reform based on a vision for something far better than the system we have in place now. It must be comprehensive and balanced. The only smart answer is systemic reform based on restorative justice.

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michelle renee
michelle renee says:
Sep 03, 2009 10:40 AM

Thank you, LIsa, for the article and for keeping survivors in focus when in so many way those in authority lose sight of innocent people terrorized and left to put re-build a life with a whole new sense of reality and post trauma. <br /> <br />Michelle Rebee

Lisa Rea
Lisa Rea says:
Sep 03, 2009 08:39 PM

Thank you, Michelle. I've learned much from victim-survivors like you. Readers should take a look at Michelle's astounding story. <br />A summary of her story: <br /> <br />&quot;Her life was shattered at age 35 when Michelle and her 7 year-old daughter were kidnapped, held hostage, taped with explosive and after 14 hours, Michelle was forced to rob the bank she managed to save their lives.&quot; For more details go to Michelle's website at www. She has written a book called &quot;Held Hostage&quot;. <br /> <br />Michelle joined a victim's panel which I moderated a few years ago hosted by Fresno Pacific University and its Center for Conflict Studies and Peacemaking. She and other victims of violent told their stories and explained why they support restorative justice. It was a powerful panel. <br /> <br />From Michelle's story, and the story of Stephen Watt, I learned more about the importance of understanding the effect violent crime has on victims. We must do more for these victim survivors. PTSD is real. I believe legislation is needed to address this issue. <br /> <br />Thank you, Michelle. <br /> <br />My best, <br /> <br />Lisa Rea <br />California

Avo √úPrus
Avo √úPrus says:
Sep 03, 2009 10:40 AM

&nbsp;Lisa wrote: I recently had one California lobbyist tell me &quot;we don't have enough money for restorative justice now&quot;. Yes, I heard same sentence often. Politics who think this way have a very tite perspective. They think in terms of one election period only, not more. In the same time they have enough money for building cages for people and use the prisons for undereducated and pour men. This is not for solving a problem of crime but keeping it hidden.

Lisa Rea
Lisa Rea says:
Sep 03, 2009 08:39 PM

Avo, thank you for your comment. Apparently this problem is worldwide given you are writing from Estonia. It's a pathetic fact that many politicians build their careers on being tougher on crime than the next politican. It's a pathetic fact. But I think that just proves we need to hold politicans accountable for their sloppy lawmaking. The public must demand real answers that fix very complex problem. Mass incarceration of all offenders is unnecessary but it also terribly expensive. And what does it offer the victim and the community? <br />The public needs to demand solutions that work. That solution is systemic reform based on restorative justice. <br /> <br />My best, <br /> <br />Lisa Rea <br />California

James says:
Sep 05, 2009 08:01 PM

It is good to see some light being shed onto the tragic circumstances that surround this horrific story. The complex issues often get reduced to drive by headlines that prompt people who react, not think, based on a profoundly bad set of assumptions and concepts around justice. <br /> <br />This is a particularily interesting conversation given a recent article about how a proper, supported transition into a community will significantly reduce reoffending when it is done.(<a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>) A lack of reintegration and can be identified as a major risk factor. <br /> <br />There are some really good, and really inexpensive (relatively speaking) program models that can be implimented if there was any kind of political will (ie Circles of Support and Accoutability)

lisa rea
lisa rea says:
Sep 09, 2009 08:17 PM

James, thank you for your comments. <br />Appreciate the link here regarding the research. We need to review, and fund, more evidence-based research. The link here provided a limited amount of information. I am sure there is more. <br /> <br />But I think you are right. Proper support for ex-offenders once they re-enter society is key to lowering the risk of re-offending. At the same time, good and appropriate treatment programs are essential as well on the inside when inmates are serving time. <br /> <br />I am thinking also of restorative justice model programmes like the Sycamore Tree Project (STP), created by Dan Van Ness here at PFI. More info: <br /><a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> <br />I was lucky enough to have directed the first pilot in the U.S. in 1998. It was an exceptional experience! Programmes like Sycamore have a huge effect on how offenders see their victims. The purpose of the STP was to expose offenders to the effect crime has on victims, real human beings. I know the effect the programme had on the inmates in my programme. This type of restorative justice model programme should be part of the &quot;treatment&quot; offenders get while serving time. It, too, will drive down recidivism rates once inmates are released. And the evidence-based research backs it up. <br /> <br />Regarding the treatment of sex offenders, I am glad you mentioned the model program, Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA). I just had an exchange with someone at Fresno Pacific University and its Centre for Conflict Studies and Peacemaking. They have a COSA up and running. Although the number of participants is limited it is still encouraging that it is operational. <br /> <br />I am concerned, like many I'm sure, that we are not doing enough regarding our response to sexual offenders. Some, not all, will return to our communities. What kind of treatment do they receive before they are released? We must invest some of our correctional budget (wherever you live) to address this population. I believe restorative justice principles apply to this problem as it does to other violent offenses. <br /> <br />Lisa Rea <br />California

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