Plan to lower prison costs misses the point


The United States criminal justice system is a joke, locking up more people each year than it can handle. The New York Times reported a few years back that while the U.S. makes up for about 5 percent of the world’s population, we hold about a quarter of the world’s prisoners.

The result has been severe overcrowding and even issues with healthcare delivery. Now, California has devised a plan to face the problem — or at least to fight the rising costs associated with the current system.

According to Matthew Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the plan involves closing the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, bringing back California inmates held out of state, and putting in place a number of cost-reducing measures. It’s estimated that the plan cold save about $1 billion this year and billions more in the future.

Cate said simply:

“It’s a massive change.”

The plan should also allow the state to comply with court mandates aimed at reducing overcrowding. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will likely see around 6,400 employees cut as a result of the plan.

Still, the state doesn’t seem to be catching on to the real issue here.  While they struggle to bring down the costs of housing inmates, they’re allowing the absurd rate of incarceration to continue.  Consider that between 1972 and 2008, incarceration rates increased 708 percent.

Seriously, has no one considered that our society may be criminalizing far too many activities?  In 2009, there were about 1.7 million people in the U.S. locked up for drug-related offenses. Drug offenders, a majority of them non-violent, made up about 25 percent of the prison population in 2002, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

While it’s true that many drug crimes do need to be prosecuted, shaving off even a quarter of drug-related incarcerations would translate to billions in savings.

Clearly someone is getting their pockets padded with the current arrangement and isn’t ready to see that change, no matter how many people we have to lock up.

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