Interesting things are happening in the California penal system. Both sides of the aisle, left and right, have plans for a big change in the way the prison system works. Of course, much of this is being fueled by the massive deficit facing the state.
It seems that the shortage of cash on the part of the government has those in power trying to find ways to shift the prison population into less costly venues. Michael Gardener, a writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune, explores the details in his recent piece in Sign on San Diego:
The state’s plans to ship low-risk prisoners to local jails could cost counties revenue and are raising fears that inmates may be released early. Transferring non-sex offender prisoners to county jails are centerpieces of dueling plans put forward by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Senate Democrats as they scramble to close a $19 billion budget gap.
The foundation of both proposals is to save the state money by offering counties incentives — including cash and greater alternative sentencing authority — to accept more prisoners.
The initiatives are drawing resistance from San Diego County supervisors, statewide law enforcement groups and Republican lawmakers.
‘Counties are very concerned and very suspicious,’ said Greg Cox, a San Diego County supervisor.
A variety of arguments, pro and con, are being presented by both the media and the political class. Suppporters stress that, if implemented, plans like this would give the counties greater lattitude to explore alternative methods such as drug treatment, supervised probation, and others methods that are slowly gaining steam as our prisons fill past the bursting point with mostly non-violent offenders.
On the flip side, the counties are wary of state-proposed programs due to the fact that state payments have usually lagged well behind the costs burden that the programs represent. The cost trail will be important to examine, since it will be one of the major factors fueling this debate. Another one, and by far the most important from a human standpoint, is the offenders themselves. While the phrase “early release” ring warning bells for many in California, it is important to examine whether these people truly need to be incarcerated.
What are your thoughts? If you live in California, we would particularly like to hear your pros and cons on this subject.
Source: “State’s plans to send prisoners to county jails worry officials,” Sign On San Diego, 08/25/10
Image by Tim Pearce-Los Gatos, used under its Creative Commons license.
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