California Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) has introduced a bill that would lessen the time people are on probation. She tells Inside the Issues there are currently 350,000 people on probation across California and eight percent of that prison population is made up of those who have committed a technical violation in regards to their parole. This can include not showing up to an appointment, failing to take a test, or visiting a county that they are restricted from entering.
“When you get violations, it increases the time that you're on probation. So, you can be on probation for three years, you have some technicals, it increases to five to seven to eight to nine,” Kamlager said. “There’s some people that are on probation for their entire life.”
According to Kamlager, the longer someone is on probation, the less effective being on parole is. It’s also costly.
“So, we are paying into a system that is not giving us the correct kind of return,” she said. “AB 1950 says, during the time that we’re on probation, front load the time with intensive services, with true guidance, with risk assessment tools so that you really see what the probationer needs and how to help them. Ideally, we want folks to serve their time on probation and then get off and not get on it again.”
Looking into the context of why someone is committing a crime is important, Kamlager said. For example, if someone is stealing food to feed their child, or because they are homeless. She said there is a lot of subjectivity and context around illegal activity that people are engaged in.
“No one is a fan of criminal and illegal activity and we always want folks to be on their best behavior. We also know that that doesn't happen. What we also know is that certain populations are disproportionately surveilled and monitored and tracked even though they are no more likely to engage in criminal activity than any other population,” she said. “I would like to have deeper discussions about that background because I think that informs what we decide as a society about how we manage and handle that kind of activity.”
The assemblymember recalled a time when police were dispatched to her home after her alarm went off. Turns out, the back door was opened by mistake, but the experience with police has had a lasting effect on Kamlager.
“In that moment I was a Black woman and the wife of a Black man who had come home to deal with an alarm, then not really expecting to see the police officers there,” she said.
While she said the officers were “very nice” and “calm,” she found herself scared, shaking and tearing up at one point during her conversation with them, thinking something bad might happen.
“All of these things started going in my mind,” she remembered. “I was thinking, well, is my husband going to come home, how would I let them know that he's my husband and that he's not an intruder? Might they attack him? What movement should I make or should I not make that could be perceived as dangerous or a threat to them. Have they been poking around? I don't have anything bad in my home but I don't know what they think is bad and now that they see me here... I just had all of these questions that I don't think you should be asking yourself when the police are there to help you.”
People should not be fearful while amongst police officers, Kamlager said.
“And we haven't really been talking about that,” she said. “I think that's been the context of all of the unrest and the protests that have been happening in the streets, across this country, as a result of George Floyd. Just pure exhaustion over these kinds of instances that we've seen and experienced.”
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