Despite California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s promise of major parole reforms to reduce California’s spiraling prison population, the number of inmates has soared to a record high as the parole programs have floundered, and the state says overcrowding will get much worse, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. In early 2004, the Schwarzenegger administration said programs that emphasized treatment and rehabilitation of some nonviolent parole violators rather than re-incarceration, would reduce what was then a statewide inmate population of 161,000 to 148,390 by mid-2005. Many of the parole programs were either gutted or never implemented fully, while more criminals were sentenced to prison. As a result, the inmate count has rocketed to a record 168,000, nearly double the capacity of the state’s 33 prisons.
Now Schwarzenegger projects that the inmate count will rise even further, to 171,000 inmates this year, which experts say is overwhelming many treatment and training programs. The vast overcrowding is so bad that one official says the system is in a “population crisis.” “We believe that an imminent and substantial threat to the public safety exists requiring immediate action,” the official wrote in an internal memo. The corrections department places the blame on prosecutors and the courts. Schwarzenegger now wants to spend $13.1 billion to build 83,000 new cells, some in prisons and some in county jails, over the next decade. Democrats complain that Schwarzenegger has largely abandoned the rehabilitation efforts, which, they argue, would lower the inmate population and alleviate the need for more prisons.