Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Four Real Ways to Reduce the California Prison Budget

Governor Schwarzenegger has recently argued that we need to increase the funding of higher education by decreasing the costs of incarceration; however, his suggestion to privatize the prisons is not only unlikely to save money, but it could result in increasing costs by having the private prisons fight for more prisoners.

If you really want to reduce the prison budget, there are four things that need to be done, and the first is to reduce the high rate of return to prison, which in California approaches 70%. Cleary, there is a lack of rehabilitation and education that is causing most of the prisoners to return. If you do not sop this revolving door, you cannot restrain costs.

The second problem has to do with sentencing laws, especially the three strikes rule. Many people are serving long and expensive prison terms because their third offense was for drug use or a failure to report to their parole officer. We need to make sure that the third offence is a violent crime and not a violation of parole or some minor drug charge. We also have to decriminalize marijuana use and other minor offenses.

The third issue concerns the fact that the majority of inmates never graduate high school. We need to invest in retention and prevention programs, and this means we cannot cut the K-12 budget like the governor recently proposed. In fact, while Schwarzenegger was right to point out the shift of state funding from higher education to prisons, he needs to realize that we can only reduce the cost of prisons if we get people to graduate from high school, and if more people graduate, we will also have to expand our funding for higher education.

Another issue is to restrain the rising costs of the prisons themselves. This would entail reducing prison administration and controlling salaries and benefits for correctional officers. Also, through telemedicine, the cost of medical care in our prisons can be controlled.

Most experts studying the costs of incarceration in California agree on these types of measures, but the governor, in his obsession with privatizing everything, simply picked a crazy free market solution that flies in the face of common sense solutions.


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