Nearly 30 years after California policy-makers declared the purpose of imprisonment as punishment, efforts are under way to re-emphasize rehabilitation inside the troubled corrections system, says the San Francisco Chronicle. Amid scandal, budget woes, and high recidivism, Democrats and some Republicans have offered support for revamping California prisons to focus more on helping inmates change criminal habits.
The Chronicle says the moves may point to a symbolic softening of the tough-on-crime sentiment that has been pervasive among the state’s lawmakers and governors for decades. Most politicians admit that prison policies cost too much and don’t improve public safety. “It is time for members of this Legislature, Republicans, Democrats, liberals and conservatives, to concede that our prison system is a monumental failure,” state Sen. Ross Johnson, R-Irvine, said yesterday. “It is ridiculous that we have this hugely expensive system of babysitting for prisoners.”
The Senate voted 27-7 to approve a constitutional amendment that would require the state Department of Corrections to provide a rehabilitation plan for every inmate entering the prison system. Legislation along the same lines is pending.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is said to also be looking at improving prison programming. Now, with more than 163,000 inmates and a nearly $6 billion budget, some lawmakers say the state erred in 1976 when the legislature endorsed a prison policy that emphasized punishment.
Nearly 80 percent of prisoners have drug problems, but fewer than 5 percent get treatment. Most inmates read at a seventh-grade level or below, but only 3 percent are in educational programs. Johnson said the state’s recidivism rate, about 70 percent, is a disgrace, and state policies do little to ensure that convicts who return to the streets don’t offend again.