Thursday, April 17, 2008

Clean Cups! Clean Cups!

The current California budget crisis has just had a new dimension added to it, one that state legislators could have and should have foreseen: the federal receiver of the state's prison system has requested $7 billion over and above the money set aside by the state for the construction of new prisons. The request (which is actually a command, given the receiver's status) comes at a time when the state has found it necessary to cut funding to schools, cut funding to social services, and to close dozens of state parks because of a budget shortfall which might very well reach $16.5 billion. And, as this editorial in today's Los Angeles Times makes clear, the legislators have no one to blame but themselves.

Lawmakers are crying foul about the added burden on the budget, even though they have no one but themselves to blame. A prison crisis that combines overcrowding, a negligent healthcare program and a crumbling juvenile justice system has been worseningfor three decades, during which time dozens of studies have chronicled the problems and pointed the way to solving them. The reports are now gathering dust on a shelf somewhere, ignored by lawmakers. Indeed, legislators and the electorate have decisively made matters worse by approving get-tough-on-crime initiatives that further cram prisons and do nothing to address conditions inside.

One of the latest studies, released in January 2007 by the independent state oversight agency known as the Little Hoover Commission, is a model of the form. It practically shrieked at lawmakers to implement the needed reforms, which include creating an independent sentencing commission that could lengthen terms for the most dangerous criminals while creating community-based options for nonviolent offenders, reinventing the state's disastrously inefficient parole system and expanding prison-based drug rehabilitation and job-training programs.
[Emphasis added]

The "lock 'em up and throw away the key" solution for drug related crimes such as possession of a certain amount of crack and for the commission of a crime under the "third strike" law has done nothing to alleviate any social problems and has in fact exacerbated them. The prison system deteriorated so much that the federal courts have had to step in to force the state to deal with such issues as the non-existence of decent health care for those incarcerated.

The fact is that the state could ameliorate the problem by taking the steps urged by the Little Hoover Commission, but that would require courage, and the pols are notoriously lacking in that kind of spine when it comes to doing something they perceive as unpopular (like raising taxes). So, it takes an order from a federal court to force the state into compliance with certain basic human rights.

The timing is truly unfortunate, but then karma really is a bitch.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's so easy to think of the interesting, pleasant things about California and to forget some of the major drawbacks, like water shortages, Nixon, far right wing Quakers, the San Andreas Fault and this.

9:52 AM  

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