Cut prison spending

The May 19 election has come and gone; California is now $21.3 billion in debt. What do we do about it?

A recent Field Poll shows voters favor resolving the budget deficit mostly through spending cuts rather than tax increases. At the same time, they oppose cutbacks to public schools, health care and higher education.

A majority of voters (59 percent) support making budget cutbacks in state prisons and corrections. That, combined with a recent court ruling regarding overcrowding in prisons, will put pressure on the Legislature to make reductions in the state prison population.

Currently, the prisons hold nearly twice as many inmates as they were designed for. Inmates are double-celled and, in some cases, triple-celled. The reasons for the overcrowding are obvious: We have multiple ways to send people to prison, but few ways to rehabilitate them once they arrive there or assist them when they’re released on parole. Instead of investing in quality probation services and community corrections programs, the state relies on high-cost incarceration for its answer to crime.

There are a number of safe steps the state could take immediately to reduce the prison population. One would be to release geriatric prisoners. Another would be to stop returning parolees to prison for minor violations. A third would be to shave a few months off the average sentence of nonviolent offenders.

Ultimately, though, we need to invest in community responses to nonviolent crime. Community-based corrections programs allow offenders to be in the workforce and pay restitution while freeing up prison space for more dangerous, long-term offenders.