Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger raised the issue of California’s dangerously overcrowded prisons last week. His timing left many lawmakers rolling their eyes and not taking him seriously, sys Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton. Skelton says “the whole episode smelled a lot like blatant election-year politics, too cute by half.” Schwarzenegger called a special legislative session knowing that lawmakers would soon be leaving town for a four-week recess. After he issued his proclamation, the lawmakers added a fifth week to their vacation.
Schwarzenegger didn’t provide any bills to consider. He offered only concepts: Build two new prisons. Develop community “re-entry facilities.” Place 4,500 nonviolent women in hometown facilities a few months before they’re freed. There were no prison sites, no reentry locales, no real cost estimates. “This is Hollywood. This is staging,” says Sen. Gloria Romero, chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on California’s Correctional System. Prison guards fear a riot with hostage-taking. Inmates are stacked virtually like cordwood in some prisons – 16,000 sleeping in gyms, hallways, and even outside. That means scarce room for rehabilitation, education, exercise and drug treatment. In all, 171,000 inmates are stashed in lockups designed for about 100,000. There also are 3,000 guard vacancies.