CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

State hopes new prisons, early release cut crowding

A steady rise in the number of inmates and the political risks of paroling prisoners early are complicating the state's efforts to ease crowded conditions in its prisons.

The 27 existing lockups now hold nearly 47,000 inmates, which is up from a population of just over 36,000 in 1998. The number of inmates is now 8 percent over the current capacity of 43,300.

And the tide keeps on rising. State Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard estimates that the overall prison population could top 57,000 by the end of 2012. Legislators' desire to be "tough on crime" and the public's fear of rising drug-related crimes have led to longer and more mandatory sentences.

Correctional costs, at $1.6 billion for 2008-09, are the third biggest item in the $28 billion state budget, after education and welfare costs.

Progress to ease the crowded cells is going slowly. The Department of Corrections wants to build three new state prisons, each costing $200 million and holding 2,000 inmates. But the first of the three new prisons won't be open before mid- to late 2011.

The state Legislature has enacted a new law, one advocated by House Speaker Dennis O'Brien, R-Philadelphia. It's aimed at making more nonviolent prisoners eligible for early release. They would have to complete programs to ease their transition back into society, such as anger management and overcoming drug use, before being paroled.

By paroling more appropriate prisoners, officials believe they can moderate the rising tab for prison construction and operational costs, and thus ease the financial strain on state taxpayers. [Mark Godsey]

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Given the fact that sex offender recidivism is actually quite low, I have a suggestion that would help ease some overcrowding, improve the state's dismal record on prison health and actually SAVE the state some money - convert Coalinga State Hospital into a prison hospital.

It is actually reasonably designed to be a prison hospital (and completely mis-designed as a psych ward for people who, by definition, aren't insane.) The DMH can't hire appropriate psychiatric staff (even at extraordinary pay levels) and so has had to use prison guards to help run the place. Because there is no theraputic philosophy recognized by any psych association practiced at CSH (indeed, the only consistent philosophy seems to be antipathy towards the "patients"), the majority refuse to participate in treatment making the place a no-star holding pen at a four-star hotel price.

CSH can't work as a psychiatric institution but it can work as a vitally needed prison medical facility. Do Californians really want to spend ANOTHER $388 million to duplicate a facility they already have? That makes no sense at all.

Posted by: Joe Power | Oct 28, 2008 4:55:51 PM

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