Crazy Dayz

As the Legislature enters the last frenetic 4 weeks of its two year legislative session, the intensity of the process becomes even more frantic and crazy. With approximately 1500 bills yet to be resolved, the tempo and tension in the Capitol grows to a fever pitch. This is the time when the overwhelming majority of difficult, complicated and controversial legislation is either passed or defeated. The method is of little moment to those trying to kill bills and the effort to protect the integrity of significant legislation puts authors and supporters at heightened stress.
So let’s add to that picture the Governor’s transparent call for a Special Session, called because he’s in duck soup with the court over his refusal to make any meaningful or effective changes to a corrections system out-of-control. Our big super-hero won’t touch the issue beyond a call for more bricks and mortar to house the estimated 40,000 inmates that have or will further overcrowd our prisons. Hang-em high–the actor’s way of dealing with a worsening, financially overwhelming situation. But of course we know you can’t dig your way out of a hole. And this Governor hasn’t the courage and insight to come up with a plan that will stem the tide of recidivism in California—which is the highest in the nation, nor set forth a plan for rehabilitation that takes into account the successes of other states where actual efforts are made to educate and socialize these people so that they can lead constructive and crime-free lives when they are released from prison—and almost all of them will be.
He hasn’t come forward with any specific ideas or legislation for his Special Session to address the fact that so many crowding our prisons today are there for strictly drug-related offenses; that they present little threat to the community at large, and that the point of incarcerating people to the tune of over $30,000 per year and climbing astronomically, is to keep the dangerous criminal off our streets and away from our communities. This is as it should be. But we’re putting more and more “low-level” criminals in the big house, rather than deal with them in either drug-treatment settings, local facilities or other alternatives that are both more effective and less expensive.
The Sacramento Bee did an outstanding series on this issues this past week and the L.A. Times has also weighed in extensively on the subject.
We know the system must be reformed, but is there time to do the serious and appropriate recrafting of our failing and financially burdensome corrections system in the last four frenetic weeks of a legislative session? Remember, this is the time of year when poorly crafted measures, negotiated and rushed through committees in the late hours of the evening can and have wreaked havoc on our state years later. One need only look back at the Energy Deregulation legislation in 1996 that led to the crisis of 2000 to realize how much is at stake in these critical few weeks ahead.
Of course, Governor Humpty-Dumpty, who fell so badly in the Special Election of 2005, is being re-made for his own relection in November of this year. It will be interesting to see how well his Bush-administration team will respond if the Legislature actually comes up with some meaningful prison reform legislation. At this late date, though, it seems highly unlikely. Maybe that’s just what this Governor and his handlers are hoping for.