Friday, August 28, 2009

Cost of Inaction on Corrections Reform

Anyone not prepared to support corrections reform legislation must justify that position against the inevitable cost of inaction: K-12 education, higher education, human services, and health care will pay the price if we don’t control corrections costs. They must also justify their position against the bloated inefficiencies of our corrections system which could be keeping Californians safer.

Every part of the state budget has faced enormous cuts over recent years, except corrections. In fact, the corrections budget has consistently been the fastest growing part of state spending. It is now the 4th largest area of spending, comprising nearly 10 percent of our state budget.

What does California get for its money? We spend more on corrections than any other state but we have the highest recidivism rate in the nation – approximately 70 percent. And, without experiencing a massive spike in crime, 1 in 36 Californians today is under control of our corrections system compared with 1 in 69 in 1982. Basic reforms to our corrections system are long overdue. They will save us money and make California a much safer place.

On August 20, the Senate narrowly passed ABx3 14. It saves $524 million in corrections spending by enacting various reforms to focus our incarceration system on violent offenders, including:
· Adjusting property crime thresholds for inflation;
· Changing three wobblers - petty theft with a prior, check-kiting and receiving stolen property - to misdemeanor offenses;
· Establishing a Sentencing Commission in California to establish new sentencing guidelines by July 1, 2012;
· Establishing alternative home custody with electronic monitoring for inmates with less than 12 months to serve on their prison terms or for inmates over 60 years of age; and
· Enacting a series of reforms to our parole system.

Unfortunately, this legislation lost momentum. As negotiations continue to reach a corrections agreement, where is the outrage in this debate? Failing to enact corrections reforms shows a perverse preference for putting the burden of future budget cuts on the backs of productive Californians and the working poor of our state. Failure also risks losing control of our prison system to the federal government.

After fighting tooth and nail to keep CalWORKS, Healthy Families and CalGrants this year, I encourage the advocates for these and other programs to fight for corrections reform. If we fail, it is their programs that will pay the price.

According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, in General Fund dollars, each year we spend approximately $46,000 per prison inmate and $248,000 per youth incarcerated in California. Compare these figures with:
· $5,888 per child in K-12 education;
· $3,721 per student enrolled in community college;
· $6,612 per student enrolled at CSU and $12,756 per student enrolled in UC;
· $5,707 per child in our foster care system;
· $1,408 per participant enrolled in CalWORKS; and
· $435 per child enrolled in Healthy Families.

Is this really the kind of state you want to live in?