The California Prison System:
A State of Chaos
by Robin Shine
Time to greet the new year with some streamlined budgetary changes in California. Governor Jerry Brown in his “State of the State” address delivered Thursday highlighted the remarkable ramifications from passage of November’s Prop 30 and called for the “fiscal discipline” that balances the budget through program cuts and tax increases.
At 96 billion for 2013, that’s about $6.3 billion more than the current fiscal year budget. Unfortunately, despite more money filling California coffers, his plan reduces the most significant of programs.
The Cal State college system, already pared to the bone was not spared, nor health care, jobs, the environment, and water. What plans are for the infrastructure, such as high speed rail, remains not detailed enough?
Of prime concern are the cuts to the prison system. Referred to as “realignment” the program is designed to shift roughly 52,000 inmates in state prisons to local/county jails by 3013-2014. Worse, the bill signed about 18 months ago puts roughly 33,000 felons on the streets.
Assembly Bill 109 was the state’s response to a mandate from the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce prisoners – redirecting low-risk inmates from state prison to county jails. This move also shifts the responsibility onto county probation officers who are now responsible for parolees.
The Governor claims that shifting inmates to the counties will save money and relieve prison overcrowding by returning “lower-level” offenders to local authorities who can manage them in “smarter” ways.
California’s 58 counties are already under some form of mandated early release. However, it remains to be seen what will ensue as many states are reviewing their prison systems after the continuous rounds of shootings taking place.
Although there is a federal court order to require the state to reduce the prison population by 33,000 prisoners, the Governor’s scheme will increase the target population by over 40%.
Given that the state will only be providing funding to house up to 10,000 more prisoners, it is likely that many state felons will be granted early release instead of being housed in county jails and speculation swirls that early release of these felons will put innocent Californians at greater risk of becoming crime victims.
As for employees working in one prison, job security and morale, is scant. They are on a pending unemployment sentence, waiting for the axe to fall. Charles Friedman, a teacher who works in a prison facility in Camarillo since 2008 feels his job may end any day. “I don’t have seniority,” he says. Though workers with seniority at least will walk away with pinions. He says most prison employees feel the same insecurity, though the general consensus is their positions will likely continue to 2014.
California has lost more than a million jobs. But for Gov. Brown, he remains upbeat over the passage of Prop 30.
“You, the California legislature, did it. You cast difficult votes to cut billions from the state budget. You curbed prison spending through an historic realignment and you reformed and reduced the state’s long term pension liabilities,” the Governor said in his state of the state address on Thursday.
Robin Shine is a business reporter who now consults as a professional writer and public relations specialist (and also business reporting when the opportunity beckons). Publications ranged from community daily newspapers to wire services and Wall Street newsletters culling insider information from DC insiders. Names like Institutional Investor, UPI, Bureau of National Affairs, U.S. Banker Magazine, Real Estate Forum Magazine . Also freelanced for Barron’s, Washington Post, L.A. Times, LA Daily News. Active with civic duties and enjoy photography, museums, and cultural events. Publisher of Businessbackstory.com website, still in formation.