California Budget Prison Policy

California Corrections Budget: THE GUTLESS WONDERS


In reporting on the whimpering and pathetic series of encounters,
that were formerly known as the corrections budget battle, this morning, nearly every news outlet led with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s extremely apt statement made during a webcast conversation held at the headquarters of Twitter. (Arnold’s a happy Twitterer so he wanted to visit the mother ship, so to speak.)

Basically Schwarzenegger called the state assembly members a bunch of gutless wonders who are making their decisions on corrections issues purely for political reasons— and that they need to grow a set. (He avoided using the term “girly men.”

“They don’t have the guts to go out there and create the prison reform that they have been talking about now for two decades. They (Assembly members) don’t have the guts now to make those decisions, because they are now more worried about safe seats than safe streets.” the governor said. Schwarzenegger also pointed out that assembly members had to problem making $10-billion worth of cuts in education, but found it impossible “to make the $1-billion cut for prisons.” AP, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee.

Schwarzenegger’s remarks were proved sadly prescient when, on Wednesday night, those self-same gutless wonders once again postponed taking the vote that had been expected to occur Wednesday on the prison budget plan that should have been passed in July. No new date for the vote has been set, said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass.

Matters were made worse by the fact that this non-vote
that sent the state assembly into paroxysms of avoidance was in response to a legislative package that had already been substantially watered down from the legislation that was passed by the state senate last week.

For instance, gone was the provision to let certain elderly and sick inmates serve their sentences under house arrest with GPS monitoring. Another axed provision the much needed proposal for a sentencing commission.

And still they can’t pass the damn thing-–and have no idea when and how they might be able to pass it. Meanwhile, with every day that goes by without a corrections package passed, the state continues to hemorrhage money.

While the state papers reported Arnold’s attempt to speak truth to power the deliberately powerless, only this morning’s New York Times had the…um….guts to themselves call the state’s legislative disaster for what it is.

Here are a few clips:

The California Legislature has failed several times to change backward sentencing and parole policies that keep the state’s prisons dangerously overcrowded with too many minor offenders sent to jail for too long. These failures, which have driven up corrections costs by about 50 percent in less than a decade, came home to roost earlier this month, when a federal court ordered the state to cut the prison population significantly. Days later, an ominous riot broke out in the men’s prison in Chino.

The time for ducking this issue has clearly passed, but a reform plan approved by the State Senate after being championed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is in danger of being gutted in the Assembly. Democratic lawmakers who should know better are running scared of the prison guards’ union and of being labeled “soft on crime.” [MY NOTE: It’s now been gutted by the assembly and still the fools won’t voted for it.]

The heart of the problem is California’s poorly designed parole system. A vast majority of states use parole to supervise serious offenders who require close monitoring. California has historically put just about everyone on parole. According to a federally backed study releasedut just about everyone on parole. According to a federally backed study released last year, more people are sent to prison in California by parole officers than by the courts, and nearly half of those people go back on technical violations like missed appointments and failed drug tests.


This bill should have easily passed in the Assembly, which has a Democratic majority supposedly in favor of reform. But the Democrats, many of whom are running for other offices, are clearly fearful of even taking a vote that would allow a sick, 80-year-old inmate to spend what remains of his life in a nursing home wearing an ankle bracelet.

This is a low moment for Democrats in California. Those who put their parochial career interests ahead of the public good deserve to be called to account for it.

We used to be a state that led the way in such matters. Now, California has become a cautionary tale that many other parts of the country are working hard NOT to duplicate.

I for, for one, am sick of it.


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