Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Money for Nothing...

California Governor Jerry Brown is asking the legislature for $315 million to keep prisons from having to release and/or shift inmates.  He wants to use the money to fund private prisons and send California prisoners to out-of-state facilities.

Notwithstanding the equal protection and unfair ex post facto issues raised by his plan, what is profoundly troubling about this idea is the arrant and willful ignorance of one fact: nearly all of the inmates who would be affected under Gov. Brown's proposal will get out of prison one day, having undergone little to no rehabilitation.

In 2004, what was then known as the California Department of Corrections (CDC) altered its title to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).  The irony of the name change is that there has been far less emphasis on rehabilitation in California prisons in the last nine years than in the preceding decades.  Prisoners are very often released awash in a flood of problems - deep poverty; untreated mental health issues; unchecked drug addictions; severely lacking job skills; limited education experience - which were never addressed inside.

As Darrell Steinberg, the California Senate president pro tem, points out, the state would be much better served spending hundreds of millions of dollars on combating the mental health and drug addiction problems inmates face. (See

And here's the thing about that argument: whether you're approaching California's prison-overcrowding problem from a humanistic or liberal point of view, or a utilitarian or conservative perspective, we should focus on treating and training our prisoners so that when they're released - and they will be released - they are as well-equipped as possible to avoid recidivism.  Whether you believe that these are human beings who deserve another shot at contributing to society, or you think that each and every inmate is getting what he earned - but you don't want him breaking into your house when he's released - it's only right that we actually rehabilitate the people in our prisons.

Gov. Brown, backed by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association - a megalithic monster of a union that wields tremendous power over California politics and politicians - is begging the legislature to address the short-term.  It is a wrongheaded and irresponsible tack to take.  Money for more private prisons and more miles between inmates and their family and friend support systems is money for nothing.

Putting millions of dollars into creating better people equipped to reenter society and positively contribute is the long-term solution to California's prison-overcrowding problem.  Better people, healed people, working people means less people going back to prison.

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