“He doesn’t know who he is, or where he is,” Dr. Joseph Bick told Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Morain about an inmate at California’s Vacaville state prison. The inmate, now 85, arrived at the facility in 1996, sentenced to 25 years to life in prison under this state’s “three-strikes” law. He is a sex offender with 25 criminal cases against him.
Fourteen years later, taxpayers spend an average of $114,000 annually to imprison maybe two dozen medically and mentally debilitated people behind bars. The state spends another $50 million a year for two dozen other inmates whose illnesses cannot be treated in state prison hospitals. As much as that is, it’s a small fraction of the $2 billion the state spends each year on inmate health care. Those costs will rise as inmates age. Age they will, so long as the three-strikes law remains as it is. More than 40,000 of this state’s 160,000 inmates are doing time under the three-strikes law, approved by voters in 1994 and championed by politicians, Brown among them.. The law has heavyweight supporters, including Brown’s benefactor, the California Corrrectional Peace Officers Association, and proxy groups it funds that represent victims.