United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect
California Budget Crisis 2003
Criminal Justice and the California Deficit
It has become popular fodder for newspaper columnists to advance the notion that letting inmates out of prison early will help balance the state budget. It's unfortunate that they weren't in Sacramento recently to hear a group of mayors making a very different appeal to legislators.
Led by Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, the local leaders asked for more spending on rehabilitative programs in prison and for stricter supervision of parolees. The last thing they want is more parolees in their communities.
Therein lies the problem. As one who spent 20 years in the state Senate dealing with the Department of Corrections budget, I can attest that it's a tough one to cut. Each cut brings consequences.
The other constant is the effect of legal mandates. More than anything else, correctional operations and policies are shaped by court rulings and legislation. Those mandates dictate everything from staffing levels to the kind of force used to quell a riot. A court set the minimum temperature allowed in cells (61 degrees). Another weighed in on inmate hairstyles. Courts have determined conditions of confinement, inmate rights in disciplinary proceedings and convicts' entitlement to organ transplants.
Recent court rulings have dictated that medical services for inmates will be expanded. As a result, health costs in the next fiscal year will increase by $52 million for a total of $939.1 million.
That isn't to say that the corrections budget shouldn't be carefully scrutinized and reduced where appropriate. But most changes would require amending laws and more spending. Many of the court mandates are difficult, if not impossible, to alter.
The budget is a hodgepodge of discrepancies and unfunded mandates that have developed over time. Cuts were made throughout the 1990s as new mandates were piled on. As a result, the department acquired its first deficit in the 1997- 1998 fiscal year. Underfunding continued despite many increasing costs, forcing debt to be rolled over since then at the end of each fiscal year. Here are a few of the big-ticket items driving costs:
Inmate population: After several years of decline, the prison population is growing again. The total as of Dec. 31 was 159,695 -- up 2,553 from the previous year. We expect the trend to continue and custody costs will grow. Even still, California ranks among the lowest of all states in the ratio of prisoners to correctional officers. It also should be noted that California's rate of incarceration is not high. The national average is 470 inmates per 100, 000 population, compared with 453 per 100,000 in California.
Maximum-security inmates: This segment is the fastest growing of our prison population. They are the most expensive to house. More than 9,000 of them live in medium-security facilities, where they have displaced inmates who are triple-bunked in gyms and classrooms.
Overcrowding: Prisons are at an average of 191 percent of capacity. Such severe overcrowding increases the spread of disease and incidents of violence. That's why we are building a new maximum-security prison in Delano and financing it with bond funds rather take revenue away from school and health programs.
Older prisoners: The inmate population also is aging in response to longer sentences enacted in recent years. Older inmates require more expensive housing and health services.
Utility costs: Prices for electricity, water, telephone and other utilities have increased without extra funding.
Workers' comp: An average of nine employees are assaulted in prison every day. Yet the department's budget for workers' compensation claims was eliminated one year and only partially restored the next. As of Jan. 1, benefits to injured workers were increased without additional funding.
Overtime: This has increased owing to chronic staff shortages. When an officer calls in sick, the law requires the position to be filled if the officer has direct responsibility for security. A vacant position in a guard tower or cell tier will be filled, even if it means someone must work a double shift.
Many of these challenges would become more manageable if we could get the department back to a zero-based budget and quit rolling over yearly deficits. That isn't likely to happen when the state is facing record deficits.
Reducing the inmate population will cut the budget. That would require changing sentencing laws. But Lawrence Brown of the California District Attorneys Association has told legislators that releasing people early from prison or parole supervision "will ultimately result in increased crime incidents in California."
As usual, the debate is badly framed. The debate is about sentencing. It's being driven, however, by budget considerations -- not issues of justice or public safety. If we have laws that imprison people unjustly, they should be repealed for reasons of fairness -- not a budget. Releasing inmates before they have paid their debts to society is neither fair nor in the interest of public safety.
Robert Presley is secretary of the California Youth and Adult Correctional Agency.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle
Secretary Robert Presley’s recent op-ed defending our $3.9 billion per year prison system was quite a whitewash job. He should know better than anyone that tons of fat, waste, and politics are ripe for the cutting.
1. Prison guards just got a 37% raise over five years and are known to excessively call in sick resulting in huge overtime payments to coworkers who cover for them.
2. Inmate education programs and parolee support have been shut down over the last decade pushing the return to prison rate sky high.
3. Three Strikes loads prison with petty criminals; a 3-year term costs $80,070; a 50-year term costs $1,334,500.
4.. Longer terms mean a large, older--and sicker--population; housing those over 60 costs about $60,000 instead of $26,690 per year.
5. Prop 37, sending first-time drug offenders to rehab, should be retroactively applied.
6. Gov. Davis can approve parole for his parole board’s recommended few term-to-lifers: 140 releases at $26,690 means immediate savings of $3,736,600.
7. Suits won for proven medical neglect and mistreatment of inmates cost us a largely unpublicized bundle.
8. Gov. Davis, in the midst of this budget crisis, approved the guards’ 37% raise, pushed forward a new $595 million prison in Delano, and proposed an expanded $220 million death row at San Quentin.
Deborah D. J.
Presley's Letter in the Chronocle
I could not sleep to night without responding to that! I am sorry!
I know I could go on but this is it in short!
I am mad! Mr. Presley, It is not fodder at all to suggest letting non-violent inmates out early. In fact most should have never been sentenced to prison in the first place. Fact, Prop 36 opposed by almost all lawmakers in the state, but approved by the voters has been 80% effective and has lowered prison populations by 11,000 to date. If this law had been retroactive another 16-18 thousand would be graduating this successful program.What the mayors want from the department of corrections is some type of meaningful rehabilitation for inmates.
The department of corrections does such a poor job of this that it has the highest rate of recidivism in the nation. Mr. Presley states that he has spent 20 years in the senate dealing with the problems of the department of corrections budget, Fact is that 20 years ago it only had a budget of 383 million dollars. It was Mr. Presley himself that pushed that budget to the 5.2 billion dollars it is today!
Court mandates have been brought by lawsuits of medical neglect, over crowding,and inhuman conditions that even the human society would not tolerate. And Mr. Presley having donated my own wife's organs after her death,
I will tell you I did not ask nor cared as to who received them, Life is life and it is precious! I know you don't understand this and probably never will.An inmate serving life for petty theft should be entitled to a transplant as much as anyone. It was the California correctional peace officers that paid for the ads that pushed the draconian three strikes law through.And because of that we incarcerate 4,000 people for life for nonviolent crimes such as stealing two cookies or a slice of pizza!
Health Care in prison is a joke! A female inmate that complains she has a lump in her breast may not have a mammogram for six months. Many have been termed terminal by the time they speak to a real doctor! I have seen this myself.
Yes Mr. Presley, we do need to amend the laws, the laws that The California correctional peace officers pushed and deceived the public about!As for prison population why do we have a larger prison population than France and Germany combined?As I understand it's one of the largest in the world! and you play that down!
One of the reasons for " Maximum- security prisons is that anyone that is a lifer,including non-violent three-strikes inmate are placed with violent inmates that may be have committed murder. So we house a guy that stole a candy bar with a guy that beat his mother to death? No doubt inmates are crowed in prison.But you do not need new prisons.You need new thinking. How about releasing old and dying inmates that are not a threat to anyone. Did Mr. Presley tell you they run a hospice where they allow the dying to die! I also need to address the 33% pay raise just given to the prison guards.
They gave Gray Davis 3.5 million in campaign contributions and he used our tax dollars to repay them.You did not mention that Mr. Presley? Keeping a person that became addicted to drugs or a shoplifter in prison for life is not in the interest of public safety of the taxpayers. The state auditor has said that the Department of corrections is the worst managed and has the most overtime of any public agency in the state. I would be happy to help you cut your budget Mr. Presley.
Frank Courser Escondido Ca
Frank Courser, once again a published author and look at the great editorial from the Union Tribune in San Diego that he probably inspired.
Hi, Cayenne, I think my letter had some impact, How can we follow up on this? Ship of state under Davis is navigating erratically hrough budget shoals January 15, 2003. If you haven't figured it out yet, our governor is leading us into a fiscal abyss. Now the delusional governor wants to build California into a biotech heaven and develop the nation's homeland security center in our state. He proposed a $2 billion cut in education and a minuscule cut of $13 million from the $5 billion budget from our prison system. California operates the third largest prison system in the world, more than France and Germany combined. We incarcerate 40,000 people on drug charges at a price of $27,000 each. Six hundred are serving life sentences under the three-strikes law that he endorses. Under Proposition 36 that the voters passed, we divert many of these people to drug programs. It has had an 80 percent success rate. But it was never made retroactive. The cost to treat these people in treatment is less than $10,000 each a year.
Do the math. It is estimated that 24,000 are mentally ill and should not be in prison at all. By its own admission, the prison system in California is the largest mental health provider in the state. It must be noted that the governor received $2.5 million from the California Correctional Peace Officers Association and gave its members a 33.7 percent pay raise, at the same time he asked other state agencies to cut 15 percent from their budgets. The first place I would look to cut our budget would be our prison system. Not the schools or road projects.
Printed in the SanDiego UnionTribune
Why spare prisons from budget cuts? By David Nott January 19, 2003 Gov. Gray Davis' budget plan goes a little something like this: Let's raise taxes and fees. Let's slash education programs, cut health services and eliminate construction projects designed to alleviate traffic.
Let's force cash-strapped cities (San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy recently said the city faces a projected $20 million shortfall) and counties to run a variety of child abuse and health care services that they are ill equipped to finance or handle. And while we're at it, let's increase funding for our prisons. Davis' budget plan makes perfect sense if you're a prison guard or a governor lining his coffers with money from prison unions. Meanwhile, if you're in charge of San Diego's schools, you're busy wrestling with budget cuts.
San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Alan Bersin told the Union-Tribune that the district will most likely have to cut some teaching positions next year. "Virtually every program in the state has been reduced," Davis said as he announced his plans to balance the state's budget. The governor had to qualify his statement with "virtually" because prisons are Davis' sacred cow. Despite a $34.8 billion deficit, the Department of Corrections is actually slated to get a 1 percent increase in funding in the governor's proposed budget.
The governor's budget even includes $220 million for a new state-of-the-art death row facility at San Quentin Prison. Furthermore, while Davis wisely suggested laying off about 1,900 state employees, he also called for adding 800 new prison employees – and potential contributors – to the corrections payroll. Prison guards seem to be safe because their union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, gave $2.1 million to Davis' 1998 campaign and has given the governor an additional $1.46 million in direct and indirect donations since then.
In return, Davis rewarded them with an inexplicable pay raise of more than 30 percent over the next five years and has steadfastly refused to cut their programs. Instead of cutting prison pork, Gov. Davis is willing to place the financial burden on taxpayers with a one-cent sales tax increase that would cost the average family at least $200 per year; increased fees for driver's licenses; a cigarette tax increase that would force smokers to cough up an extra $1.10 per pack; and a personal income tax increase that could cost the state's wealthiest residents around $2.6 billion annually.
The governor also passed the buck to cities and counties, forcing them to operate costly long-term health care and child abuse programs usually run by the state. Former Gov. Pete Wilson designed a similar realignment in the early 1990s. Mike Van Mouwerik, San Diego County health budget manager, said in a newspaper interview that sales tax revenue fell about $8 million short of funding the programs that the state pawned off on the county last year. And you can bet the new tax revenue that Davis promises for these new responsibilities won't be enough to cover the expenses.
As a result, San Diego will be forced to find ways, meaning increased fees and taxes, to fund the programs the governor is handing them. We'll also find increased fees at the state's community colleges, where tuition will more than double. The state's community college chancellor, Tom Nussbaum, estimates 146,000 fewer students will attend community colleges next year because of the cuts. Maybe that's the governor's grand plan – a less-educated population that is more likely to commit crimes. Eventually, the entire state could be one big prison. Think of all the guards – and all the campaign contributions.
Davis said he wouldn't sign a budget that doesn't produce real reforms. Why not start with real reforms to the prison system? California's prison health care costs rose from $282 million to more than $660 million in a recent four-year span. Last year, it was reported that California spends $4,222 per inmate on medical care each year. By comparison, an average of $4,637 was spent on health care for each American in 2000. California's escalating inmate health care costs are even more perplexing when you consider that the majority of prisoners are men in their the mid-20s to 30s – and as a group should be relatively healthy.
The bottom line is that there are prison cuts and efficiency gains to be made if Davis is interested in looking. The governor is asking taxpayers to pay more taxes and fees. He's asking cities and counties to do more with less. He's cutting education by more than $5 billion. If he is truly serious about cutting state spending and charting a course for long-term economic health, shouldn't he ask prisons to share the burden?
Applauding something they wrote when it is good, is always the wise thing to do. Remember 150 words max if you want your note to get printed. That's about ten or fifteen sentences. Good job Frank.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Monday, January 20, 2003
GAMBLING ADDICTS AND STATE BUDGET GAP
Editor -- Please tell me why Gov. Gray Davis will stoop to reduce the deficit by increasing the number of Indian casinos and/or slot machines while simultaneously spending millions in state money to prevent addiction to hard drugs, alcohol and cigarettes?
Gambling is an addiction like the others -- what idiocy to assist in its proliferation! We know it is often the more desperate people who choose to gamble, be it by machines or lotteries.
While prisons and their guards go untapped for budgetary help, gambling addicts must do the job? I wonder how increased gambling will affect the welfare rolls.
DONNA R. SCRIVEN
Editor -- Shame on our legislators and governor for looking to increase their shares of the state budget while everybody else has to get by with less. The Legislature wants to boost its budget by $8 million for cars, salaries and catered lunches?
Why don't the legislators drive their own cars, brown-bag it and take pay cuts like the rest of us? Shame on them.
I remember when public service claimed as part of its rewards the "serving the country" philosophy. I guess this isn't the case anymore.
Battle Looms Over Prison Spending in State Budget
By Dan Morain and Jenifer Warren
Times Staff Writers
January 22 2003
SACRAMENTO -- Facing a historic fiscal crisis, California Gov. Gray Davis is calling for deep cuts to schools, health care for the poor and scores of other programs. But one corner of government is being spared such pain: the state's sprawling prison system.
Davis, a Democrat who treasures his law-and-order image, actually wants to boost Department of Corrections spending in the coming year, though modestly. The governor proposes opening a new prison, building a $160-million department headquarters and remodeling San Quentin's deteriorating death row.
Critics are angry about what they see as an inequity, and a state Senate subcommittee will meet today to begin paring back the $5.2-billion prison budget. But many analysts say the only way to make meaningful cuts is to do what has been politically unthinkable in California for a quarter of a century: Put more felons back on the street.
Some other hard-pressed states have begun to do just that, permitting some lightweight offenders to go free before their terms are up. Davis, however, views such steps as perilous and is unwilling to take them.
"If people can find other reductions that don't compromise public safety, I'm open to that," Davis said. "But I don't favor letting prisoners out earlier."
Most lawmakers appear to agree. But an influential group from Davis' own Democratic Party say the budget crisis demands a look at cost-cutting alternatives to incarceration — in particular, the early release of some nonviolent or elderly convicts.
"We've been a law-and-order state — building more prisons, locking up more and more people for life, making penalties tougher and tougher," said state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), who heads the Senate's prison oversight committee. "But in a lot of ways, we've been tough on crime without thinking through the consequences."
Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco), frequently at odds with Davis, is leading the voices suggesting it is time for a look at early releases. At his request, prison officials have prepared a list of options that, if fully implemented, could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars.
Burton says he is not contemplating "letting Charlie Manson out of jail." But he argues that there is no reason to imprison people convicted multiple times of petty theft, also known as shoplifting. Corrections officials estimate that 2,120 people — enough to fill about half of a prison — are serving time for petty theft with a prior offense. Eliminating state prison as an option for those people would save the state $14 million.
Burton also raises the possibility of freeing inmates who have up to 13 months remaining on their sentences, saving the state $132 million next year. The proposal would exclude those convicted of serious or violent felonies and sex crimes.
"Their budget is going to get real scrutiny, and there will be reductions," said Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), who sits on the subcommittee that will take up the issue today. She believes there may be cheaper and more effective alternatives to prison for nonviolent drug offenders and elderly inmates.
Prison officials caution that releasing prisoners early may not save as much money as some lawmakers hope; rather, it could add to local law enforcement costs as some of those paroled early cause trouble in the communities that receive them.
"It isn't just as simple as letting people out," said Stephen Green, assistant secretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, which oversees the prison system. "The infrastructure we have for parolees is already very thin. If we dump a bunch more people out there, they will need help, or they will prey on the most vulnerable in these local communities."
Green added that the $40-million spending increase proposed for prisons is compelled by a rising inmate population, while the new headquarters, a maximum-security prison at Delano and the $220-million rebuilding of San Quentin's death row are being financed with bond money that cannot be used for other projects.
A decade ago, California's prison budget was $2.6 billion, half its current size, and there were 109,000 inmates in 24 prisons. Today, there are 160,000 felons in 33 lock-ups.
Mirroring the system's expansion has been the growth of the prison, parole and California Youth Authority work force. It has ballooned by 50% in the last decade to 50,000 this year. The overall state work force grew much more slowly — by 22% — during that time, according to the Department of Finance.
Nationally, the population of state prisons has surged as well, with corrections consuming an ever larger share of state revenue. The National Assn. of Budget Officers estimates that about 7% of state general funds are used for penal systems. California spends almost 9% of its general fund, the part of the budget used for schools, parks and health care.
Though no governor wants to appear soft on crime, several states facing budget shortfalls are taking steps to save money on corrections. In Oklahoma, Republican Gov. Frank Keating has asked the parole board to identify 1,000 nonviolent inmates for early release. Iowa laid off prison guards. Other states have relaxed sentencing for certain crimes, mostly drug offenses.
Kentucky last month began releasing 900 prisoners to help shrink its $500-million budget shortfall. In ordering the emergency releases, Gov. Paul E. Patton, a Democrat, acknowledged that some of those freed — a group that included convicted arsonists, burglars and thieves — would likely commit new crimes. But Patton suggested that he had no choice: "I have to do what I have to do to live within the revenue that we have," he declared.
Even Texas, second only to California in the number of people it incarcerates, has taken steps to save money by funneling some parole violators into lower-security detention and drug treatment facilities.
In California, any move to open prison doors early is sure to face opposition. The 26,000-member prison guards union, known as the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., long has pushed for tough sentencing. The union is among the biggest campaign donors in California, giving $3.4 million to Davis directly and indirectly since his first run for governor in 1998, including more than $1 million last year alone.
Davis press secretary Steve Maviglio said there is "no connection whatsoever" between campaign money and the prison budget.
Davis will have legislative allies in any fight against releasing inmates early. Assembly Republican leader Dave Cox of Fair Oaks called the concept "a very slippery slope." Freshman Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez (D-Norwalk) also opposes it. Before winning his Assembly seat, Bermudez was a state parole officer, and is a longtime member of the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn.
Bermudez is in a position to exert some influence over the corrections budget, having been named by Speaker Herb Wesson (D-Culver City) as chairman of the Assembly subcommittee that oversees prison spending.
In a hearing last week, Bermudez went out of his way to act tough toward the department that has employed him. He voted to delay the opening of the new prison at Delano by a year, saying that would save about $12 million, and upbraiding Youth Authority and Department of Corrections officials.
Rather than trim sentences or release inmates early, Bermudez is homing in on prison administration. He made what he called a surprise visit to corrections headquarters in Sacramento, bringing the union's lobbyists and one of its top executives. Bermudez said he is "looking at total restructuring of the administrative side."
Among items troubling Bermudez and other critics is the department's continual overspending of its budget.
In December, as Davis called on lawmakers to make $10 billion in emergency cuts to an array of programs, his Department of Finance requested $70 million to cover unexpected prison costs from last fiscal year. That request followed $170 million in extra prison spending approved by the Legislature earlier in 2002.
On top of that, the administration has asked lawmakers to approve another $150 million so the prison system can meet its obligations in the current budget year. The bulk of unanticipated costs are attributed to overtime, sick leave, workers' compensation, a rising inmate population and medical costs.
California prison officials say many expenses are beyond their control. The state, for example, must feed each prisoner three times a day. It does so for about the cost of a kid's meal at a fast-food restaurant. Spread over a year, however, that amounts to $224 million.
The cost of mental health care has risen largely because the state settled a class-action lawsuit by prisoners seeking proper treatment. In the coming year, the state will spend $245 million on psychiatric care, up from $20.5 million a decade ago. The overall health care cost will be $939 million, triple what it was 10 years ago.
While many prison-related costs are locked in, critics say the Department of Corrections fails to contain spending.
In 1997, it spent $43.8 million on pharmaceuticals. Last year's cost: $110.5 million. State auditors reported last year that the department could have cut the cost significantly by using a more up-to-date system to buy and dispense prescriptions.
A major cost in coming years will be the labor accord reached by the Davis administration and the guards union a year ago — and approved by a near-unanimous vote of the Legislature, including Burton and others who now are looking to cut the corrections budget.
Over the five-year life of the pay package, prison workers' pay could rise by 37%, costing more than $500 million a year, the state auditor reported last year. The Davis administration estimates the pay hike will be 28%.
"Contrary to what people think, we have a budget that is very difficult
to cut," said Green of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency. "The only
way ... is to let a bunch of people out early, and the governor does not
want to do that."
E-mail to all Legislatures and Governor
Subject: No New Taxes
Please, no new taxes. Close the jails and keep the schools open. About 40% of inmates are non-violent or innocent, and have been beaten and coerced into pleas against their wills. Also the Public Defenders are only Pretenders as they work for the DA not the accused. What happen in Illinois is also happening in California.
This would save California millions and millions of dollars to clean up the California Justice system, IT IS BROKEN.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Last month, Kentucky Governor Paul Patton announced the early release of over 500 non-violent felons from state prison. The move - politically unthinkable even a year ago - is the surest sign that state budgets are really in dire straits: if governors are prepared to save money by releasing criminals, times must be tough indeed.
The crisis, of course, is new. Throughout the 1990s, most states were flush. They were able to spend lavishly, cut taxes, and even save for a rainy day. But now it's not just raining - it's pouring, and it's not letting up.
The economic downturn has proven disastrous for state budgets. On average, shortfalls are about 15% of general state revenues. California alone estimates that its deficits for 2003 and 2004 will top $35 billion.
The states have fewer tools for responding to budget problems than does the federal government. They don't print money. And most states cannot, by law, run a deficit. They are confined to either raising taxes or cutting spending.
Many governors and state legislators - even some Democrats - were elected on pledges not to raise taxes. For Republicans especially, it is an article of faith that those who break such pledges, as the first President Bush famously did, will be turned out of office for their perfidy.
The sole alternative for many legislators, then, is budget cutting. And it hurts, especially when it involves prisons.
Prison Spending, Then and Now
Prison spending, together with education and health care, makes up more than half of most states' spending. In the 1990s, especially, prison spending skyrocketed. This was largely in response to the dramatic rise in crime that most states experienced in the 1980s. Legislatures passed tougher sentences, and appropriated the money to house those who would be locked up as a result.
Cutting prison spending is hard. And it ought to be. Maintaining public order is the chief responsibility of government. It's not that education is a luxury; far from it. It's just that not all necessities are equal.
Of course, state legislators' unwillingness to cut costs by releasing inmates is not based solely on their reading of John Locke. There is no question that prison spending is supported by powerful constituencies. Prisons are important employers, especially in economically depressed areas, which have been especially hard hit in the economic downturn.
Early Release: If Properly Handled, It Will Not Pose a Large Security Threat
Still, as Governor Patton has shown, early release is now a reality. At least a dozen other states are reportedly actively considering it. Increasingly, governors are being forced to take a position on whether they will consider it, and to explain how they plan to address budget gaps if they will not.
While prison releases are properly a last resort, many states are quickly running out of next-to-last resorts. But if managed properly, early releases can assist in changing the makeup of the prison population without an undue threat to public safety.
In the main, states have focused their early release programs on non-violent criminals who are nearing the end of relatively short sentences. In Kentucky, for example, the targeted prisoners have mostly been non-violent, non-sex offending felons who are within half a year of sentences that are mainly less than three years long. But this may not be the best approach. In fact, releasing inmates who have committed "violent" crimes may, paradoxically, be the safer approach to early release.
Early Release: Mainly for the Old and the Infirm
Imprisonment works: people in prison do not commit crimes outside them. Most other claims for prisons - punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation - are mainly speculative. Everyone thiinks confinement is punishing, of course, but governments are pretty blunt instruments for peering inside people's souls. Prisons are best understood as tools of public safety.
Prison releases should, primarily, be consistent with this understanding. Secondarily, they should be cost-effective. After all, money is the reason states are thinking about early release at this time.
These considerations suggest who should be released: prisoners who are least likely to commit new crimes, and prisoners who cost a lot of money. Happily, these will often be the same people. Early release should target the old and the infirm.
The longer sentences of the 1990s have led to a marked graying of the prison population. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, less than a third of all prisoners in 1991 were between 35 and 54; today, nearly half are. And the trend is accelerating.
With age comes infirmity. This is especially true in prison, where people are exposed to levels of violence and disease far greater than they would be on the outside.
These older prisoners cost dramatically more to house than their younger counterparts. In 2001, for example, the State of Louisiana estimated that a prisoner in his sixties costs twice as much to care for as one in his thirties. Today, ten cents of every dollar spent in a prison goes to health care; these services are disproportionately used by the elderly and the infirm.
Recidivism: Even Violent Offenders Tend to Grow Less Dangerous as They Age
It probably goes without saying that older prisoners, and especially sicker ones, are less dangerous on the outside than younger, more vigorous ones. And indeed, studies confirm that elderly prisoners pose a dramatically lower risk of recidivism than other prisoners.
Not surprisingly, this is particularly true of violent crime. People who commit crimes primarily for money re-offend at a higher rate than people who commit seemingly random acts of violence. A burglar can work past fifty; in contrast, there are few gangbangers eligible for AARP membership.
All of this points to a slightly different approach to early release. Remember: prisons are best understood as tools for preventing people from committing crimes. In deciding who should be released, the question should be who poses the greatest danger on the outside. The sixty year-old inmate who committed a violent assault when he was forty is probably less dangerous, today, than the twenty year-old drug dealer in the next cell. For the sake of public safety, here as elsewhere, age should have its prerogatives.
Some states already have compassionate release laws and other mechanisms for releasing the aged and the infirm, but many do not. Such programs belong at the top of the agenda when legislatures looking to cut costs turn to their corrections departments.
Understandably, such an approach will raise hackles: releasing people who have committed violent crimes just sounds worse. And of course, older prisoners whose violent crimes are recent ought to be an exception. But while the needs of victims for punishment and closure are central to the criminal justice system, considerations of public safety must take precedence when releasing prisoners.
Funding Programs for Released Prisoners
Finally, while this is not a good time to suggest full funding of anything, the cutting of programs that specifically target prisoners who are released has undoubtedly done damage.
Programs supporting released prisoners are as essential to public safety as prison cells. A prisoners' ability to get along in the outside world - find a job, find a place to live, annd live a law-abiding life - are critical to avoiding a life of crime. And the longer someone has been in prison, the more desperately they need these services.
But programs like these serve no powerful constituencies. They were, in fact, among the first cut when states went looking for ways to save money. This is a shame. Indeed, the Bush Administration recently recognized the problem, and offered the states $100 million to spend on such services. This is not enough, but then, there is no way the federal government can completely replace the lost state dollars.
In the long run, programs supporting released prisoners will both save money and protect public safety. But for as long as the present budget crisis persists, state legislators are unlikely to believe it's safe to think about the long run.
Barton Aronson is currently a prosecutor in Washington, D.C. Prior to
that, he was in private practice in Washington, D.C. and an Assistant District
Attorney in Massachusetts. The opinions expressed in this article are his
January 22, 2003
This went to the Daily News Los Angeles yesterday.
Lets see, the 90s come along and business is thriving. California state government sees this and says great, lets get all those programs going, lets give ourselves raises, perks, and great retirements, and lets hire a bunch of people. Hey, why not the good times are rolling? So we go from a $48 billion in 1990 to $103 billion in 2002 (115%). Unfortunately, business goes into the tank for a number of reasons; business cycle, 9/11, dot com crash, and a war.
Now government says, we need more money to support the 325,000 state employees (up from 255,000 in 1990 or 27%). Solution? Businesses and individuals will be expected to pay more for the "services" the state provides like lousy schools, lousy roads, and lousy health care. When did we go back to being ruled instead of being served by our employees, the State Government?
Re: Battle Looms Over Prison Spending in State Budget
Maybe you should ask your readers what is more important to them locking up a person for 25 to life for stealing aspirin or batteries or the education of their children. Education should come first above all!!! Its that simple! Probably 50% or more of the people in prison now if they had received a better education wouldn't be in prison to begin with and our governor wants to cut more from our education system when its one of the worst in the nation now.
Until people wake up and realize that Davis is destroying our state they are going to let him do whatever he wants, he already has, look at his past problems with the power crisis.
Davis and his staff can continue to deny the link between very few cuts in Corrections and huge donations from the CCPOA. Its obvious, the CCPOA has Davis in their back pocket. Davis just gave Correctional Officers a 33% raise, if Davis didn't owe them so much for helping him fund his reelection Davis could easily say forget the raise until the economy gets better. And the tax payers are paying for this, look at the cycle, we pay with our taxes and a portion of that goes for Corrections and in turn correctional officers pay union dues out of their paycheck and in turn the CCPOA donates millions to Davis.
Studies have proven that Prisoners who serve a long straight sentence, instead of using the prison system as a revolving door are less likely NOT to commit a crime. Why is our legislature not looking into releasing inmates that have served lets say 15 years or more??? But not Manson as Senator Burton has said.
Citizens of the State of California need a wake up call before it gets worse...
January 23 2003
Protecting public safety should be the paramount responsibility of any elected leader, but for too long California officials have used that obligation as an excuse for coddling the state's wasteful prison and parole system.
Since 1980, the prison budget has grown from $409 million to $5.2 billion, consuming 9% of state general funds, compared with the national average of 7%. The extra spending might be worth it if it deterred crime. But California has the highest repeat offender rate in the nation, accounting for about 40% of all known parole violators even though it has less than 15% of the nation's parole population.
The state's budget shortfall has finally prompted some legislators to scrutinize the latest bit of complacency: Gov. Gray Davis' proposal to boost spending for the California Department of Corrections, in part by speeding the opening of a new maximum-security prison in the Central Valley and building the department a $160-million headquarters.
As early as today, the Senate Budget Committee will consider a measure to change sentencing laws that require petty thieves with prior nonviolent convictions to serve time in state prison. The bill, by Sen. Byron Sher (D-Stanford), would trim prison costs by just $15 million this year and $34 million next year.
However, it could spur the state to consider more controversial reforms such as moving severely ill inmates who pose no public safety risk from prison hospital beds costing more than $120,000 a year to unlocked long-term-care facilities, which, unlike state prisons, are eligible for generous federal Medicaid funding.
Legislators should also push to change laws so that judges can sentence more low-risk offenders to house arrest with electronic monitoring, restitution, education and work programs or military-style boot camps -- all cheaper and, in many cases, better ways to stop criminal behavior in the long term than prison.
Davis and many legislators will probably resist such changes, fearing
that the public will perceive them as being soft on crime -- and that the
powerful prison guards union will perceive them as insufficiently grateful
for its generous contributions. In fact, such so-called intermediate sanctions
put heat on criminals to improve their behavior -- and that's ultimately
good for the law-abiding people who pay for California's vast criminal
These three appeared in the LA Times yesterday.
January 24, 2003
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Re "Battle Looms Over Prison Spending in State Budget," Jan. 22: Gov. Gray Davis' decision to decrease school and other program budgets while increasing the prison budget once again shows the short-term mentality of our politicians. Building prisons might help crime rates in the immediate short term, but when sacrificed against spending for schools, after-school programs and other programs this only ensures that we will have to build more prisons in the long term.
Is it any surprise that the prison guards union favors such state budgeting? It has helped shape California budgets for the last two decades -- and where has it gotten us? Los Angeles is being called the "murder capital of the U.S." Give me back the days when we were proud of our education and other programs, instead of being the state with the most and best-paid prison guards.
Douglas W. Kieso
"Time Is Money in Budget Crisis" (Jan. 19) indicated that Davis proposes suspending cost-of-living increases of $21 a month, slated for June 2003, for the 1.1 million or so blind, disabled and poor elderly Californians who receive a federal program called Supplemental Security Income. Contrast this "savings" with spending $220 million to improve and expand death row at San Quentin, which is part of Davis' budget.
This significant expenditure has obviously survived the budget-cutting process due to the contributions the prison guards union made to Davis, as well as the Hawaiian parties it threw for key legislators in December. Maybe pushing the SSI recipients further into poverty will result in more violence from the disabled and elderly, and we will need more room on death row to properly house them. On second thought, if Davis would pull a "Gov. Ryan" we could save the $220 million (and more) by eliminating death row and use the money to try to decrease violent crime. Just a crazy idea.
California prisons are filled to overflowing with small-time drug offenders and other nonviolent criminals. These individuals would be better addressed through drug treatment programs, community service and "outside" probationary rehabilitation programs. Three years ago, I sat on a jury where a man received a lengthy sentence for stealing a pair of socks, due to California's barbaric third-strike law.
Incarceration is immensely expensive to the state. Millions, perhaps billions, could be saved by alternatives to incarceration for minor, nonviolent criminals.
Maybe the budget crisis will finally resolve something that common sense and humanity have not been able to: We will realize that not only should we not jail nonviolent drug offenders but we cannot afford to jail them. Treatment, which is much cheaper, much more humane and much more effective, may finally get a real chance to prove its worth.
Correctional System Needs Correcting
January 26 2003
Never before has California faced such a huge budget gap -- $34.8 billion. To solve this problem, the governor has proposed slashing programs serving the poor, sick and elderly, hacking away at education funding, doubling community college fees and derailing transportation projects.
Meanwhile, spending as usual goes on at the California Department of Corrections and the California Youth Authority, with their collective budget of more than $6 billion. In fact, the Department of Corrections is enjoying a proposed budget increase.
This is wrong. We can no longer destroy California's infrastructure while pumping money into our correctional systems without questioning the policies and practices that contribute to the state debt.
It costs $26,000 per year to incarcerate an adult in a state prison. That same inmate could attend UCLA at less than half the cost. It costs $49,000 to house a juvenile in our Youth Authority system. That same inmate could attend Harvard for $38,000.
Spending on corrections eats up about 9% of the state's general fund. And what are we getting for our money? Finishing schools for felons, whose graduates, more often than not, offend again once they're released.
No one is suggesting that we set all inmates free. Public safety is and should remain our highest priority. Nonetheless, we can better protect taxpayers while spending more wisely.
The Department of Corrections, which houses 161,000 adult inmates, reports a recidivism rate of 56%. The Youth Authority, home to 5,500 wards 25 and younger, reports a rate of 47%. Some independent studies say these rates are much higher. California returns more parolees to prison per capita than any other state in the nation. In 2000, California returned 90,000 parole violators to prison -- a thirtyfold increase from 1980, according to the Urban Institute. This suggests that too many are returned for "technical violations," such as failing to report regularly to a parole officer.
Nearly two-thirds of our prison admissions are returning parolees, compared with a national average of one-third. This costs $900 million annually. If California's return rate was more in line with the national average, we could save $500 million a year.
How do we get there? For starters, we could alter parole conditions for nonviolent offenders after they've done their time. For instance, restricting parole to 12 months would save the Department of Corrections $272 million from 2003 to 2005.
The rising cost of prison health care also demands reform. Between 1998 and 2001, medical spending jumped 65% to $724 million. Though health costs have been driven up by successful lawsuits over past inadequacies, we are spending too much on old and infirm inmates who are a greater threat to our fiscal stability than to public safety.
A recent nonpartisan government analysis estimated that it costs $47,000 per year to incarcerate an inmate older than 60, nearly double the cost of the average, younger inmates. Older inmates often suffer illnesses that are expensive to treat. There are about 6,000 inmates 55 and older in state prisons -- nearly 4% of the population.
"Three strikes" and other tough-on-crime measures have already begun to exacerbate the problem, as more inmates age behind prison bars. The choice is ours: spend more of our green on graying inmates or devise better ways to manage the geriatric prison population.
In this fiscal crisis, much has been made of the prison guard union's labor contract. That is a sexy issue because it involves power and politics. However, significant savings -- through adopting sound public policy measures -- can be immediately found elsewhere,, such as in reforms in whom we parole and how often. Delaying the opening of the new prison at Delano, closing one of our women's prisons (no longer needed because of a declining female prison population) and increasing "good time" credits for certain inmates would save $75 million per year.
There are many other cost-cutting options that merit consideration. Some would require legislation; others won't.
Tackling the corrections budget is difficult because most politicians
want to claim they stand for law and order. However, there is merit to
the adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Maintaining
the prison status quo while cutting funding for essential social programs,
such as education, chips away at the future of law and order in California.
January 26, 2003
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Mentally Ill Need Treatment, Not Jail
As Gov. Gray Davis considers another increase in the state's $5.2-billion prison budget, I urge him to visit the Los Angeles County Jail (Jan. 22). He should see the 2,500 inmates on psychiatric medications and an additional 100 in psychotic states, who listen to internal voices telling them to refuse medications, struggling with their illnesses. The jail's psychiatric hospital houses 50 more inmates.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles County, with a population of 10 million, has less than 250 psychiatric beds available to treat the uninsured, unincarcerated severely mentally ill. Continuing cutbacks have downsized the number of beds tenfold. The untreated severely ill respond to unseen voices and commit bizarre acts or petty crimes that result in arrest and incarceration. Jails and prisons are experiencing a tragic backlash from the misguided downsizing of the mental health system. It is time to halt this human injustice and shortsighted budgetary approach.
Marcia Kraft Goin MD
• January 29, 2003
The resistance of Gov. Gray Davis to evenly spread the pain as California climbs its way out of a $34.6 billion budget deficit is clear when the proposed budget of the Department of Correction is studied.
While the governor, who counts the prison correctional officers' union as one of his biggest allies and campaign contributors, has sought an average 9 percent cut from nearly every state department, the prison system essentially is being left untouched.
Gov. Davis received more than $3 million for his campaign war chest from the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. Those donations came to be a centerpiece of the scrutiny of his overt fund-raising tactics, what some refer to as his "pay to play" approach to governing. Support from the union came after he approved a contract likely to bring its members a 37 percent raise over five years.
It is important, therefore, to see if Gov. Davis makes good on a recent promise to include prison employees in his plan to trim $470 million from the state payroll. And if he does as he says he will, he will reopen contract negotiations with all unions representing state workers, including the one for correctional officers.
Why must schools and local government bear such a load in the recuperation process while prisons barely see their budgets cut. Correctional officers deserve good pay for a very difficult job. But does the department deserve to be sheltered from the budget knife? Of course not.
According to the department's own estimates, eliminating post-release supervision for nonviolent, nonserious, non-drug-sale offenders, with no prior record of violent or serious offenses, would save an estimated $114 million a year. And putting shoplifters in county jails, instead of state prison, would save an additional $34 million annually.
It would be better to lock them all up, but we no longer have the ability to do that.
Cayenne's Response to Senator Parata