Total Recall: Prison Reform Update

From The Courage Campaign
California’s prisons are in a serious crisis. They are massively overcrowded, and the problem is getting worse as more people are being sent there than ever before. The conditions inside the prisons have deteriorated to the point that the health care system is already under the control of a federal court (three inmates died just this last December due to poor health care). The courts have threatened to take over the rest of the system if urgent reforms are not implemented. As Total Recall (the Courage Campaign governor watch) has noted, prison reform was a key part of Governor Schwarzenegger’s campaign promises both in the 2003 recall election and his 2006 reelection. But Schwarzenegger took almost no action to fix our prisons in his first term as Governor, and he didn’t release a detailed plan to fix the problem until after his reelection, in December 2006. Schwarzenegger’s first major prison bill has finally been signed, just this month.
More Prisons, And Billions More For Prisons
Nearly every expert agrees that sentencing reform – stopping the huge increases in the prison population – is desperately needed in California. For Governor Schwarzenegger to fulfill his promise to fix our correctional system, he needs to provide bold leadership and resist the calls for “tough on crime.” We simply cannot afford to send so many people to prison, and there’s no evidence that locking up 170,000 people (and the number keeps getting higher) has made us any safer.
Rather than enact bold reforms, on May 3, 2007, Schwarzenegger successfully pushed through a plan to build tens of thousands of new prison cells, which together with a few new treatment programs will rack up a cost of some 7.4 Billion Dollars. Despite the rejection of voters, again and again, for bond dollars to build new prisons, the plan hailed as a success by Schwarzenegger spends more than 6 Billion just on construction alone — operating cost estimates will come later. Schwarzenegger did not do what almost every expert on prisons has said he must do: institute immediate reform of the sentencing system to stop sending so many people to prison. The 7.4 Billion Dollar plan does nothing to relieve the crisis in the immediate term. Rather than a permanent fix to the broken system, this plan is a 7.4 Billion Dollar bandage. Did I mention that the cost of this plan is 7.4 Billion Dollars?
Health Care for Inmates: Still Cruel and Unusual
The construction of new prisons is just the first part of the massive cost that we will have to pay to maintain a prison system housing 200,000 human beings. Last week, the person appointed to fix the health care system in the prisons released his proposal to bring the system out of “cruel and unusual” territory. The proposal had no price tag, but experts say it will take nearly 20 years and billions of dollars to fully implement.
Death Chamber Controversy
Adding a new dimension to Schwarzenegger’s prison failures is the recent controversy over a secret new death chamber at San Quentin prison. Governor Schwarzenegger and his staff apparently knew of the plan to build this new chamber well before it was made public — but Schwarzenegger made statements to the contrary. John Myers has an excellent description of the unfolding controversy here.
Total Recall
This series is dedicated to keeping you informed of how well Schwarzenegger’s actions live up to his promises. We’ll keep you updated on developments as they happen.