The widely praised plan by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to move nonviolent female inmates into neighborhood correctional centers is in peril, a victim of politics and the prison overcrowding crisis, reports the Los Angeles Times. The fate of the proposal, which criminologists endorse because it would house the offenders near their families and better prepare them for release, shows the difficulty of tinkering with punishment in California. “This was a no-brainer,” said Barry Krisberg of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in Oakland. “If we can’t succeed in moving these non-dangerous, low-risk women into well-designed community programs, then you have to wonder whether we can accomplish any prison reform at all.”
In recent weeks, legislative support for the idea – even among Democratic lawmakers who once backed it – crumbled amid opposition from unions and, surprisingly, several advocacy groups for female inmates. The measure failed in a legislative committee, with one lawmaker saying, “We shouldn’t be gambling with taxpayers’ money on untested, unproven programs.” The unions, representing teachers, psychologists, and thousands of other workers in state prisons, had opposed moving women to smaller contract facilities on the grounds that it would lead to privatization of prisons. One letter from Service Employees International Union, Local 1000, said the union would support the plan only if its workers staffed the facilities.