Prof Warns California Against Releasing Prisoners
Criminology Researcher Advises State as it Grapples with Overcrowding Crisis
Feb. 12, 2009
The state of California has called on UT Dallas professor of criminology Dr. Jim Marquart for advice as it faces an unprecedented prison crisis.
Federal judges have tentatively ruled that the overcrowded California prison system is creating unconstitutional health and safety risks. The judges’ ruling will require the state to reduce the number of inmates by up to 40 percent.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Marquart, who heads the UT Dallas criminology and sociology programs in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences. “There will be a tremendous impact on the local communities.”
Marquart has been working with Dr. Chad Trulson from the University of North Texas to advise the California prison system for the past three years, as it implements racial desegregation. Recently, they were also asked to work with the California attorney general’s office on prison system’s capacity crisis. Marquart testified before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in December on the issue.
Marquart agrees that the nation’s largest prison system has an enormous problem. “It’s a conundrum,” he said. “They have 170,000 prisoners and space for 130,000. Expanding capacity takes decades, but the local communities aren’t prepared to absorb this quantity of inmates, especially considering the state’s budget crisis.”
He explains that the recidivism rate is conservatively 60 percent, meaning that if 100,000 inmates were released, at least 60,000 could be expected to return to the prison system. “They can’t release these prisoners without the necessary support structure,” said Marquart. “They need to take the millions they will save by releasing these prisoners and use the money for the parole program.”
Under the tentative court ruling, the state would have to reduce its prison populations by as many as 50,000 people. The California attorney general plans to appeal the ruling, once it is final.
Marquart is one of the nation’s leading experts on prison systems. He advises several states and is regularly asked to comment in the media. He recently argued against the release of the California prisoners on Fox News Channel’s morning program Fox and Friends. At UT Dallas, he teaches courses on social problems, the correctional system and society, the criminal justice system, capital punishment and organized crime.
Marquart’s books include: The Keepers: Prison Guards and Contemporary Corrections; An Appeal to Justice: Litigated Reform of Texas Prisons; and The Rope, The Chair, and the Needle: Patterns of Capital Punishment in Texas, 1923-1990.