California’s spending on corrections has risen unchecked for too long and with too little to show for it, former state corrections director Jeanne Woodford says. Writing in the Sacramento Bee, she says that as every other area of the budget absorbs significant cuts, corrections remains the exception even as recidivism exceeds 70 percent. Prison costs have increased during this severe economic downturn. “Public safety is threatened – not enhanced – by a massive, inefficient prison system haphazardly constructed through piecemeal legislation and ill-conceived ballot initiatives,” Woodford writes.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed corrections cuts of about $250 million early this year. Senate Democrats responded with their own plan to reduce corrections spending. Both would reduce the number of people going to state prison for select low-level, nonviolent drug or property offenses and provide counties additional resources to respond to new crimes locally (through diversion, probation or jail). The governor’s plan would provide counties with $11,000 per offender kept at the local level (who would otherwise have been sent to state prison). The Senate Democrats’ plan would provide $24,000 per offender. Both would significantly reduce costs to the state, which spends $50,000 per offender per year. If the state will save $50,000 every time a county chooses to keep a low-level offender, using such options as electronic monitoring, drug treatment and county jail instead of state prison, shouldn’t the counties have the resources they need to make that choice?