CA Prison Law: “Monumental Shift” Or Recipe For Failure?


Legislation signed yesterday by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will lead to a huge prison expansion with potentially dramatic long-term costs and will require a major increase in the kind of inmate rehabilitative services that prison managers have routinely botched, says the San Francisco Chronicle. The law will initially spend $7.4 billion to build 40,000 new prison beds and 13,000 new county jail beds. The cost of operating the expanded facilities is unknown, but expected to be in the billions.

The law requires the state to increase inmate programs such as drug treatment and vocational education in an effort to help felons stay crime-free once they leave prison. Schwarzenegger cited that provision as a “a monumental shift in how we manage prisons in California.” Plenty of questions remain. A failure to provide programs for parolees is a major driver for prison overcrowding. The number of parolees returned to prison for a violation grew by nearly 13 percent last year. Many experts argue that policy makers should have concentrated on sentencing and parole reforms that could have reduced the prison population instead of expanding a dysfunctional system. “If you want to see how this will work, look at the juvenile system,” said Dan MacAllair of San Francisco’s Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Responding to a lawsuit, the state increased spending on programs, but violence in the system increased.


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