Trending: Is sentencing reform picking up steam among the states?

California’s singular demographics across a wide spectrum of matters make it an interesting focal point of many discussions. The state has the largest population by far of any state in the country, with more than 38 million residents. Its gross state product — again, the largest of any state by a significant margin — equates to the gross domestic product of many nations.

And its state prison population of more than 140,000 inmates makes what state government and prison officials have to say about the criminal justice system and prison sentencing worth a listen (Georgia, too, is no laggard when it comes to incarcerating people, with an estimated inmate population of around 50,000).

California Governor Jerry Brown’s recent pick to run that state’s prison system is an avid sentencing reform advocate with a record strongly demonstrating that he favors sentencing mitigation and a reduction in the prison population wherever possible.

We have cited some of the central criticisms of a hard-line sentencing stance in recent blog posts, coupled with the views of advocates across a wide spectrum — lawyers, judges, government officials, prison administrators, even prosecutors — chronicling why a “scare them straight” policy of simply locking up many offenders for decades is illogical and counterproductive. Especially where low-level and first-time offenders with no history of violence are concerned, lengthy incarceration periods are personally devastating as well as unduly costly across many fronts for society in general.

Brown notes that and has tagged Jeff Beard, the ex-head of the Pennsylvania correctional system, as the new state prison guru. Beard is a proven advocate of alternative sentencing, drug treatment courts, diversion programs for non-violent offenders and other options for reducing prison populations.

A stringent prison-first mentality aimed at low-level offenders “has proven to have limited value in maintaining public safety,” Beard has told legislators.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Brown’s choice for prisons chief is sentencing reform advocate,” Paige St. John, Dec. 19, 2012