Why California Has Found Cutting Prison Spending Difficult


The billions of dollars that California pours into its troubled prisons – a number increased by court-ordered medical spending and sky-high personnel costs – have become an increasingly attractive target for leaders desperate to trim the state’s $20 billion deficit, says the San Jose Mercury-News. Despite officials’ attempts to clamp down after watching costs double over the past decade, some corrections spending is proving impervious to the budget ax.

Hundreds of millions in expected savings have failed to materialize, partly because one big expense – more than $1.5 billion for inmate medical care this year – is under the watch of a federal receiver, not the state. It’s also because some legislators, fearing “soft on crime” accusations, balked at cost-saving measures last year that might have released thousands of the state’s 160,000 inmates. That alone, the Department of Finance says, has cost nearly $600 million. More than two-thirds of the budget goes to corrections officers whose salaries were locked in during California’s last boom. The state must employ all those officers because of tough sentencing laws that increased the inmate population more than fivefold over 20 years.

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