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A Regrettable Achievement: More $ on Prisons than Universities

by: Brian Leubitz

Mon May 21, 2007 at 07:19:18 AM PDT

Well, we haven't quite reached that milestone yet, but it is only a matter of time.  A very short time. 

As the costs for fixing the state's troubled corrections system rocket higher, California is headed for a dubious milestone -- for the first time the state will spend more on incarcerating inmates than on educating students in its public universities. Based on current spending trends, California's prison budget will overtake spending on the state's universities in five years. No other big state in the country spends close to as much on its prisons compared with universities.
"California is just off the charts compared with other states in corrections spending," said Michael Jacobson, director of the Vera Institute of Justice in New York, a leading research organization. (SF Chron 5/22/07)

During the Arnold Administration, prison spending has leaped from just under $6B to an expected $10B in the 2007-2008 Budget. That kind of growth would make even a CEO of an Indian software firm jealous.

There are many, many reasons that our prison expenses are so out of line, even when compared to other states.  But one reason surely must be ToughOnCrimeTM:

"I'll tell you what, it's clearly not a statement of our priorities," said Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles. "Our policies are hurting the economy of California. This is a disservice to our economy."

Núñez blamed the prison spending on a get-tough-on-crime mentality among politicians that equates more prison spending with safer streets, when that is hardly the case.

First, congratulations to the Speaker for saying this.  This should be shouted from rooftops: ToughOnCrimeTM is ruining our prison system, and apparently our budget as well. ToughOnCrimeTM fails us when we try to rehabilitate prisoners, ToughOnCrimeTM fails us on race issues, ToughOnCrimeTM fails us on efficient use of resources.  Todd Spitzer, the outspoken OC Assemblyman, can crow all he wants about how Tough he is, but where has the success been for ToughOnCrimeTM?

Brian Leubitz :: A Regrettable Achievement: More $ on Prisons than Universities
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Assemblyman Spitzer (0.00 / 0)
Should simply be called Assemblyman ToughOnCrimeTM.

Great post.  I would prefer to see walking the walk instead of just talking the talk, but at least there's an understanding of the core problem.

Núñez is right (0.00 / 0)
This is a sad milestone, a sign of seriously misplaced priorities (although it does raise the question of why he so quickly agreed to the prison bill a few weeks back).

Since 1984 California has built nearly 30 new prisons. In that time we have only opened FOUR new 4-year colleges: UC Merced, CSU San Marcos, CSU Monterey Bay, and CSU Channel Islands. In the case of the latter two institutions those were reconverted from other government facilities (Fort Ord and the Camarillo State Hospital, respectively).

This is significant because the costs of starting a new prison and starting a new college campus are roughly equivalent. Similar facilities costs. Similar labor costs. No, scratch that - the average starting salary of a full-time CSU professor is LESS than the average starting salary of a full-time prison guard.

And instead of having to pay out of the state coffers for housing and feeding the inmates, students or their families generally pay the bulk of those costs at a college campus. Furthermore, a college campus generates FAR more income and creates significantly more economic activity for a locality than a prison.

Finally, a college campus creates a much better set of opportunities for Californians instead of sending them off to a prison. How many young African Americans and Latinos and poor whites are languishing in state prisons, instead of having the opportunities to go to college? It's tragic and shameful.

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