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At Long Last, Change in the CA Prison System?

April 23, 2012

Officials at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced a plan today to reform the California prison system that could result in significant benefits to California inmates as well as the state’s finances. In part a response to the Supreme Court’s decision last year which held prison overcrowding violated the 8th Amendment (my take), the plan builds on Gov. Jerry Brown’s realignment plan, which has increased flexibility in the prison system by sending more prisoners to county jail instead of state prison. The plan also addresses the increasing cost of incarceration to the state government, which has risen from 3% of the General Fund 30 years ago to 11% today.

The plan is notable for a couple of different reasons. First, it contains an explicit pledge to reduce prison costs, in part by canceling projects the realignment has made unnecessary, and cut 6,400 prison employees. Up until this past year, there didn’t seem to be any way to cut prison spending (especially considering the clout of the prison guard union) but now CDCR is pledging to reduce spending. It’s good news. Second, the plan projects that CDCR will be meet the court mandates for healthcare, mental health and overcrowding by the end of next year. Although the inmates population would still be above the designed capacity of the prisons, this would be good news as well. The plan would also return all out-of-state prisoners to California, which will reduce recidivism, reduce spending on private prisons and return jobs to the state, and increase rehabilitation services to inmates and parolees

The plan explains that the reforms were made possible by the realignment program, thus much of the credit should go to Gov. Brown. Nonetheless, CDCR could have continued to obstruct reform efforts, and they deserve credit as well. Of course, most credit shouldn’t go anywhere until the plan is implemented, but it’s a significant day for the California prison system. Hopefully it’ll be the start of significant changes for the better.

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