Is Newsom releasing prisoners early to canvass votes?

Retired Marine Col. Gary “GI” Wilson and San Clemente City Councilman Gene James appeared on California Insider to discuss Newsom’s motives for releasing prisoners and prison reform in California. (Video Screenshot)

On May 1, without warning, California Governor Newsom announced that 76,000 prisoners, including violent and repeat felons, would be released early. This sparked statewide concern. Two criminal justice professors from California’s Palomar College – Col. Gary “GI” Wilson, a retired Marine with more than 30 years of military service, and San Clemente City Councilman, 20-year veteran and San Diego Gene James, a former leader of Crime Stoppers in San Diego County, appeared on Siyamak Khorrami’s “California Insider” show to discuss Newsom’s motivation for the move and prison reform in California.

Wilson said he is very concerned about how the state will facilitate the reintegration of people who have committed crimes against the person once they are released, “I think that’s a very serious issue. Another issue is that I wonder if the state is not actually passing on the cost of keeping these people in prison to the cities and counties of California.”

James also expressed concern about the cost. He noted that during Kamala Devi Harris’ tenure as California’s attorney general (2011-2017), with the support of the California Correctional Officers Union, California’s incarceration rate was staggering. Today California’s inmate population has fallen from a high of 140,000 to about 117,000, but the Department of Corrections still has a budget of $12 billion. He argues that given the dramatic decline in the prison population, the state should shift some of that funding to local governments.

He cited the city of San Clemente, for example, which pays about $260,000 a year in salaries and benefits for one officer, and to add five officers would add $1.1 million to the annual budget, which is a significant expense for a small city with a budget of less than $70 million.

In addition, James expressed another concern. Together with the 20,000 prisoners released early because of the Communist virus, California has released nearly 100,000 prisoners in the past year. He said, “These are Governor Newsom’s new constituents, and as he faces a recall election, I’m telling you, he’s playing to those 100,000 new voters, plus their families and friends.”

Private prisons are not the answer

Private prisons have popped up in California and other U.S. states in recent years, but Colonel Wilson thinks it’s a bad idea because the motivation is profit, not to provide an environment where people can be rehabilitated or given a second chance.

I don’t think private prisons are a compassionate option,” he said. In many cases, it saves money for four states (I don’t have data to prove this, but I’ve been told that it saves money). The states don’t have to build new prisons, the states don’t have to hire correctional officers, they don’t have to do retirement and welfare routines, but I think it’s a bad idea. If you look at our prison system. We’ve stopped that in California.”

At the same time, he argues that “Defund the police” (cut the police) is not the answer either, and unless the criminal justice system is completely reformed, eliminating police funding is useless and will not solve the problem.

What’s wrong with the U.S. criminal justice system?

Most criminal cases in the United States are resolved through plea bargains (Plea bargain). Colonel Wilson said that some people who have committed no crime make deals with the prosecution to avoid longer sentences. Others who are wanted by the police at the risk of their lives are not prosecuted by the prosecutor’s office.

Finally, in response to the left-right divide in America, James drew comparisons to pre-Nazi Germany, “I look at what’s happening in America right now. I compare it to the Weimar Republic in Germany, where in the ’20s and early ’30s, you had National Socialists, you had Communists, and they completely divided the country, and nobody practiced the middle way anymore …… That’s how Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany… …with a charismatic leader and a huge propaganda machine. I would say right now, the mainstream media is that propaganda machine.”