California for Common sense wrote a new report on the impact of the growing costs within the California prison system and compared that to the impact on state funding for the California college system. In economics there is a term they call “opportunity cost” … it’s very simple to understand. If you use $100 to purchase on alcohol … then you can not use that $100 on food or something else. We all have finite budgets including governments.
In this case – the state of California has seen an explosion in costs over the last 3 decades relative to how much it spends on its prison system and this has forced the state to defund its once world class college system. The report explains the laws written by the state legislature which led to this increase in prison population. The state took a much more hardened stance on crime including the infamous 3 strikes law and minimum sentences … and it is costing taxpayers BILLIONS not to mention it is mortgaging the future of California students. People are being thrown in the prison system for petty criminal offenses like possession of marijuana and that has had a debilitating effect on the state in a whole host of ways.
The Huffington Post explains the new report HERE:
Since 1980, higher education spending has decreased by 13 percent in inflation adjusted dollars, whereas spending on California’s prisons and associated correctional programs has skyrocketed by 436 percent. The state now shells out more money from its general fund for the prison system than the higher education system. (When combined with K-12 education, the state’s overall education spending dwarfs its prison expenditures.) Fifty-five percent of the growth of corrections spending is the result of the state simply putting more people in jail. Over the past three decades, the number of inmates in California facilities has increased eight times faster than size of the overall population. The report notes that, while the average salaries for employees of the state’s world-renowned higher education system have stagnated or even dropped with regard to inflation, prison guards have seen sustained salary increases. Correctional officers in California typically make somewhere between 50 and 90 percent more than comparable jobs in the rest of the country. New report
Directly from the report which you can find HERE; an excerpt:
While the student population growth has approximately kept pace with the overall growth of the state population, the number of incarcerated felons in state prisons has increased at more than eight times the rate of the state population. Although prison construction ramped up in the late 1980’s, the system could not accommodate the rapid inflow of inmates, and prisons were forced to operate at up to twice their design capacities. After a decade of operation in these conditions, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that California must reduce its prison population to 137% of design capacity within 2 years.
Our impact assessment revealed that approximately 60% of the increase in total CDCR costs from 1980 to 2012 (adjusted for inflation) can be attributed to “excess inmate population growth.” While California’s crime rate has been declining since early 1990s, the State prison population grew by 42% since 1992. Policies like the 1977 Determinate Sentencing Law, the 1984-1991 sentence enhancements bills, the 1994 Three Strikes law and Proposition 21 (which required trying juvenile offenders as adults) have ratcheted up punishment severity over time. These policies have also contributed to a shift in the age demographics of the inmate population: as the proportion of younger inmates (between 18-40 years old) has declined, the percentage of older inmates (older than 50 years old) has grown.
And the report acknowledges that the money being diverted away from the college system into the jail system is leading to higher tuition for students:
The institutions are relying more heavily on tuition fees, raising them significantly and multiple times during the last few years. While the tuition rates remain lower at California’s public institutions than at comparable non-California institutions across the nation, recent hikes have brought them much closer to the national average. However, the extent to which the three college systems have relied on other sources of funding has varied wildly.
In fact as the Huffington Post reports HERE – California has been paying out of state private prison systems to hold prisoners after Governor Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency with the prison system. The state is guaranteeing payment of $61 to $72 PER DAY per prisoner and a guarantee on how many prisoners they send to these private corporations.
Currently, some 9,500 state inmates are serving sentences in prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma operated by the Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America. As part of a strategic plan announced in April, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will transfer those inmates back to California facilities by 2016.
The return of the first group, 600 inmates housed in Arizona, will begin “immediately,” said Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate. Another 4,000 prisoners will return to California in 2014.
Steve Owen, spokesman for the Corrections Corporation, confirmed the company agreed to modify its contract to lower the total number of California inmates housed in out-of-state facilities from 9,588 to 9,038 for this year. The contract guarantees 90 percent occupancy.
If you don’t know about the private prison system … you can read about the top two prison corporations who made over $3.3 billion in revenues in 2011 alone HERE. And now – nearly 1 million prisoners are working for Fortune 500 companies getting paid slave wages while they’re in the prison system (source). In other words – there is a financial incentive for private corporations to see these inmates continue to stay in prison but while these private corporations profit … the taxpayer ends up paying for it through cuts in education or increasing the cost of tuition to make up the difference.
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