UCLA Center for the Study of Women Discusses CA’s Booming Incarceration Rates: “It’s not Something CA Should be Proud of”

By Kristine Aramyan

LOS ANGELES — California has become the epicenter of a statewide increase in the rate of life and virtual life sentences, skyrocketing at a 1 in 3 prison population. The inequalities present amongst race, gender, and age are fatally imposed in California prisons today.

Founded in 1984, UCLA Center for the Study of Women, was the first gender studies research branch to be established in the UC system which prospered in a community full of scholarly support amongst all genders, race, women, and sexualities. The center hosted a webinar event, Gender, Race, and Age Behind Bars: Impacts of Long-Term Sentencing, featuring moderator Alicia Virani, an associated director at University of California, Los Angeles School of Law.

Amongst panelists present included a formerly incarcerated individual, Jane Dorotik. Dorotik was an RN and healthcare professional, community mental health administration worker, and a member of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. Dorotik was wrongfully convicted and released in April of 2020, after serving 20 years, due to COVID-19 concerns.

Fellow panelist Romarilyn Ralston was also formerly incarcerated. Ralston, a feminist, abolitionist and Program Director of Project Rebound at California State University of Fullerton, provides formally incarcerated students with opportunities to help them thrive as scholars.
Also amongst panelists was Ricardo Garcia, Los Angeles Public Defender, who worked on the longest and most complicated high profile case of death penalty trial in state history.

California has been ranked number one in 2017 reports where incarcerated individuals are high amongst those serving life sentences, as mentioned by Ralston.

The amount of racial disparities in California is extremely alarming. Ralston worked on a bill which consisted of a Racial Justice Act that was signed into law and prohibits prosecutors from obtaining or imposing a conviction on the basis of race.

Ralston is continuously providing her efforts to put an end to incarceration of the youth in adult court and explained that, “black youth, both male and female, charged…were more likely to be signed to adult court at a rate of 91 per 100,000 thousand cases, while their white counterparts…at very low 8 per 100,000 cases.”

Mass incarceration has also taken a toll on the elderly. Dorotik mentioned that if the prison population continues to increase, the rates in the year 2030, “the elderly incarcerated population will be greater than 4,000% than it was in 1981”, an astronomical increase.

Age is a vital factor for older individuals who are hoping to have parole granted. Dorotik expressed concerns of the subjective processes occurring during parole suitability hearings, which do not have as high of an approval rate due to the “lack of remorse.”

With aging, the functions of the brain subtly deteriorate. Dorotik called for an objective process to be granted amongst individuals incarcerated, who are being considered for parole.

Furthermore, according to the panel, 62% of the people sentenced in California today are 25 years of age. Ralston argued that the brain has not yet fully reached maturation at this age.

Ralston also touched on the gruesome process of having been formerly incarcerated and gone through seven parole hearings of her own. She advocates for a more progressive stance throughout hearings, stating that there is no need for District Attorneys “to show up.”

The unfortunate truth of solitary confinement is that its population makes up 90% of Black and Latinx adults in state prisons. An alarming majority face life without the possibility of parole.

“68% of the overall 5,200 folks serving death by incarceration… [are] Blacks and Latinx. Asians and Native Americans also make up more than half the people currently on death row,” Ralston pointed out.

The disparities and social injustices occurring within minority communities are devastating. Ralston mentioned that California incarceration rates in blacks and whites are 9:1.

Furthermore, the amount of cost per adult incarcerated is over $81,000 a year. Ralston explained that she had only been paid fifty-six dollars a month when working in prison.

In order for social justice to prevail, the webinar advocated for the improvement of the lives of individuals that are currently or formerly convicted of wrongful crimes.

“We’ve done our time, we have reinvented ourselves and we are ready to move forward,” said Ralston.

Kristine Aramyan is a writer for the LA Vanguard’s social justice desk. She is originally from Los Angeles, CA, and is a UCLA student on the pre-med route. In the future, Kristine plans to combine a degree in medicine and law.

Edited on 2/10/2021: The article said that “62% of the people sentenced in California today are 25 years of age.” We amended that sentence to specify that that figure came from the panel.

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  1. Chris Griffith

    62% of the people sentencing in California today are 25 years of age. Ralston argued that the brain has not yet fully reached maturation at this age.

    First of all I must disagree this brain disease goes far beyond 25 years old. Of these individuals that are incarcerated that have this so-called brain disease or what you like to call not fully functioning brains how many of them self identify as a Democrats?



      1. Bill Marshall

        Right… think Juan Corona, Dorthea Puente… “brain development”?  Both found guilty of multiple murders… we could add Dan White (single episode, but it was due to ‘twinkies’ which affected his brain… yeah, right), and many others…

        In individual cases, brain development (or, lack thereof) might be a valid defense, on a case by case basis… no farther… but, I suggest you use a paintbrush, rather than a roller, or a power sprayer, to paint it the way you suggest… all due to brain development…

        There are bad folk who do bad things… regardless of brain development…

        And be careful pointing out ‘science’… current science would indicate that schools could be at least partially opened, with proper protocols, unless you believe CDC and NIH are political rather than scientific…


        1. David Greenwald

          From the APA:

          Although the vast majority of teens do not commit serious crimes, the combination of brain development and the context in which someone lives can influence the level of risk, says Temple University psychologist Laurence Steinberg, PhD, who has conducted extensive research in the area.

          The research by psychologists and others has dramatically changed the way courts see juveniles. “We would not have seen this move toward more appropriate sentences for juveniles without the underlying neuroscience research that helped the court understand why youth behave the way they do,” says Heather Renwick, JD, legal director for the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth in Washington, D.C. “The change has been incredibly important because it’s giving hope to people who would have died in prison, and it’s established a new standard going forward.”

          Link: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/10/justice-teens

        2. Eric Gelber

          Saying that both the propensity to commit violent crimes and incomplete brain development exist prior to the mid twenties merely establishes a correlation, not a causal relationship. Since brain development is essentially uniform among the youth population, clearly other, environmental, factors play a more significant role—e.g., history of abuse, poverty, parental role models, addiction, educational opportunities, etc.

          The brain development theory is unhelpful in identifying strategies and interventions that may actually address the problem of juvenile crime. It’s a counterproductive distraction.

  2. Chris Griffith

    The disparities and social injustices occurring within minority communities is devastating. Ralston mentioned that California incarceration rates in blacks and whites are 9:1.
    I’m really not sure how I should take this black to white ratio of 9 to 1?
    Am I to understand that younger black people have higher instances of slower brain development more than white people? I sure wish the author could kind of expand on this one it would make for fun conversation

    1. Eric Gelber

      Am I to understand that younger black people have higher instances of slower brain development more than white people?

      That’s actually a very good question. As far as I know, those who attribute higher crime rates among juveniles/young adults to incomplete brain development have not identified any neurological developmental differences between offenders and non-offenders, or between racial groups, that would account for the differences. That’s one reason why attributing the higher violent crime rate to incomplete brain development is both unproven and unhelpful.

      1. David Greenwald

        I would frame it differently – just because their is one factor that increases the likelihood of committing a crime (age) doesn’t mean that there aren’t others – education, poverty, racial discrimination…

          1. David Greenwald

            Remember the discussion we had before where I showed you data that shows Black and white youths commit crimes at similar rates but Blacks are more heavily incarcerated than whites?

        1. Ron Oertel

          So, assuming that’s correct (and fully accounts for consideration of prior convictions, proper classification of similar crimes, etc.), how much of that 9:1 ratio do you suppose that accounts for?

          If that wasn’t a factor, would that bring it down to say, 7:1?

          Let’s see some science.

          For that matter, how do we know whether or not a higher percentage of blacks AREN”T arrested and incarcerated (due to fear within those communities, failure to report, lack of faith in the police, etc.)? If that wasn’t a factor, maybe the ratio should actually be, say 18:1?

          1. David Greenwald

            I think the juvenile brain development explains why the crime rates are about the same for Black and white youth and the racial factor contributes predominantly the disproportionate arrest and conviction rates.

        2. Ron Oertel

          And for that matter, why did you even mention “education” and “poverty” (as causes) if blacks and whites (using this example) are committing crime at the same rate, as you claim?

          (Assuming that there’s difference in education and poverty levels, between those groups.)

        3. Ron Oertel

          While it would be naïve to suggest that there is no racism in the US criminal justice system, victim reports don’t support the idea that this is because of mass discrimination.

          FactCheck: do black Americans commit more crime? – Channel 4 News

          Seems to me that some put forth claims on this blog without regard to science (or even basic facts).

          In other words, they’re putting forth opinions, and pretending that they’re facts. Science is nowhere to be found.

          1. David Greenwald

            Do you remember that when we previously discussed this, I posted the link to the research? Do you also recognize that the FactCheck you posted doesn’t address the issue of juvenile crime?

        4. Ron Oertel

          The lack of science and evidence (e.g., incorrect assumptions regarding “cause/effect”) is also the reason that someone might look at a disproportionate percentage of incarcerated groups and automatically conclude that it is due to systemic racism.

          These types of views (masquerading as science, or “evidence”) are a hazard to society. Unfortunately, it appears that a significant number of people believe it – even in (or especially?) university towns.

        5. Ron Oertel

          The document I posted doesn’t refer to children, but it does refer to “young black men”.

          I assume when you’re referring to “mass incarceration” that you’re primarily referring to adults.

          Is it your contention that systemic racism is what is “causing” a difference for juveniles, but not when someone reaches age 18? Some kind of magic cut-off age – where you acknowledge a difference in crime rates?

          1. David Greenwald

            I’m saying that the post that you made did not address the issue in question which is juvenile crime.

          1. David Greenwald

            So? I was making a point in response to yours. I’m not bound by the article in doing that.

        6. Ron Oertel

          My comment was made in response to the 9:1 ratio regarding incarceration rates (which I assume refers to adult incarceration).

          But frankly, I’m kind of shocked that smart people automatically assume (or promote) the line that this is primarily due to systemic racism – without actually defining what that means, or providing any actual evidence for it.

          Other than the “result” – which is not provable, regarding cause (or the degree thereof).

          1. David Greenwald

            This is a perfect example of my problem with your approach – you attempt to argue first and learn the material second, if at all.

            If you want to have a good introduction to the issue and an evidence-based approach to racial disparities, I recommend this report from 2016 by the Sentencing Project: https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Reducing-Racial-Disparity-in-the-Criminal-Justice-System-A-Manual-for-Practitioners-and-Policymakers.pdf

            I would quote some stuff out of here which address your questions, but then I know you will simply look at the quotes rather than read the study. You seem to have all day to argue things but no time to read and learn. That’s unfortunate.

        7. Ron Oertel

          What (exactly) do you think I’m “arguing”? I posted an article with data, in reference to the claims on here.

          And if you believe that I’m arguing, doesn’t that take two to accomplish?  (Have you ever heard the sound of one hand clapping?)

  3. Ron Oertel

    Dorotik was wrongfully convicted and released in April of 2020, after serving 20 years, due to COVID-19 concerns.

    Seems strange that the release wasn’t due to being wrongfully convicted, in reference to the sentence above.

    1. Chris Griffith

      I did a little research on Jane Dorotik and I think she was released due to DNA evidence in her favor. Apparently she didn’t whack her old man somebody else did 😲

  4. Chris Griffith

    I believe the cause of this problem of brain development is simply mind-altering substances. I don’t believe it’s a natural brain development this problem is plain and simple drug-induced you see it everywhere on the streets and in the prisons and it’s increasing at a rapid rate if we don’t eradicate drugs this problem is simply going to increase.

    This is just one person’s opinion.


      1. Alan Miller

        We have science which means we don’t have to rely on one person’s opinion

        It’s poetry in motion
        She turned her tender eyes to me
        As deep as any ocean
        As sweet as any harmony

        she blinded me with science . . .
        She blinded me with science!
        And failed me in biology

        — Thomas Dolby, “She Blinded Me with Science”

        Strap in and prepare to have progressive viewpoints and the opinions of the DV labeled as the proto-God “Science!” 😐

  5. Bill Marshall

    Furthermore, 62% of the people sentencing in California today are 25 years of age. Ralston argued that the brain has not yet fully reached maturation at this age.

    Patently untrue.  An author of an article should have the burden of accuracy (and, grammar).  Exactly 25 years of age?  Male bovine manure!

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