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Letters: A fresh approach to recidivism

November 30, 2013

Re "Catch a cold, go to prison," Editorial, Nov. 26

This editorial's brilliant parsing of the word "recidivism" has major implications for public policy, including prison overcrowding and, even more important, how parolees are treated.

As proposed, technical violations of parole such as missing an appointment or even failing a drug test should not be considered recidivism. Such violations should be evaluated within the context of the individual. For example, is the violator a first-time, nonviolent offender (felon or not)? Is the violator holding a job, going to school or otherwise being a good or even contributing citizen?

Officers should have other options besides re-arresting, including helping to maintain the good and healthy aspects of the parolees' lives, drug rehabilitation and other health programs, educational programs and even temporary financial aid or living arrangements.

George Wolkon

Pacific Palisades

Violation of court-ordered probation should not count as recidivism. Neither should "flash incarceration" — up to 10 days in jail, ordered by any probation officer for violations of the terms of supervision, including not taking psychoactive medication even if the individual has not been deemed a danger to society.

While a flash incarceration may last only 10 days, it can be administered as punishment any number of times.

Of course, there's also the obvious problem of no due process.

Yes, the Los Angeles County district attorney would like flash incarceration to be counted as recidivism. Does that mean repeat offenders are committing more crimes? No.

Rather, in many cases, mentally ill people are being forcibly medicated in county jails, where some have been beaten for not taking their medication.

If we are going to force people to take medication, we should consider what that force might entail.

Marsha Temple

Los Angeles

The writer is the executive director of the nonprofit Integrated Recovery Network.


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