When men leave their cages

Cuts in prison rehab programs will only make a bad situation worse

Here’s a stark fact about California’s prison inmates: Most of them—about 95 percent—will be released someday. And most won’t be prepared to handle freedom. They won’t have job skills, they won’t have taken substance-abuse classes, many won’t even be literate. And so they almost inevitably will drift back into the only work they know: criminality.

Then they will be caught and returned to prison, which is why California has the worst recidivism rate in the country: 70 percent.

Is that what we want? Right now, many people are upset that some prisoners are being released early, as a budget reduction measure. But these are mainly nonviolent and aging offenders near the ends of their terms; they pose little threat. The inmates still in the prisons are the ones to worry about.

Currently the state spends $11 billion annually on the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Until recently, $560 million, or about 5 percent of the total, was budgeted for rehabilitation. It’s worse this year. The DOCR, forced to slash $1.2 billion from its budget, is cutting $250 million—almost 45 percent—from rehabilitation.

As the Sacramento Bee reported this week, the result is a 30 percent trim in high-school equivalency and other literacy and vocational courses—800 of 1,500 instructors have been laid off—and a 40 percent cut in substance-abuse programs. Gone are such programs as landscaping, janitorial maintenance, printing and graphic arts, roofing, drywall and cabinetry classes.

The consequences are predictable. As Jean Bracy, principal of the school at Folsom State Prison, told the Bee, “You cannot take people and throw them in a cage and expect them to be OK when they get out without rehabilitation.”

If you want to see a stark illustration of the consequences of Republicans’ cuts-only approach to the budget deficit, this is it.