The program seemed a model of corrections reform in tight fiscal times: The mostly white-collar criminals who were enrolled saved taxpayers money by living in group homes instead of in state prison and held jobs that helped cover rent and restitution to victims. But on Thanksgiving Eve, says the Los Angeles Times, California officials shut down the program and sent the 74 enrolled offenders to prisons, not even giving them time to tell their employers. Corrections department officials, ordered to cut their budget by $800 million this year, said California could no longer afford the program.
The decision perplexed prison-reform advocates, who called it a bureaucratic blunder born of government inefficiency. “It’s pretty stupid,” said Robert Pratt of Volunteers of America, which ran the two centers. “These are people who were working and paying for their upkeep and paying back victims. It is counterproductive to put them back in prison, where the taxpayer has to foot the whole bill.” Prison-reform advocates say the decision to close the centers appears to run counter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mandate that more inmates be sent to community centers to reduce the prison population. There are some 171,000 inmates in California prisons built to handle 100,000; a panel of federal judges is considering whether to cap the population and release up to 52,000. “You are going to need more programs like this, not less,” said Joan Petersilia, a criminologist at University of California Irvine and has advised Schwarzenegger on corrections issues.