Chances are if you have a school age child one of his or her classmates has a parent in prison. One out of 28 children does and with education cutbacks class size is a lot larger than 28. This isn't because there is an increase in violent crime. That has stayed pretty constant as a percentage for the last thirty years. It is because we put people in prison for longer and for more things than any other country in the world. We have a higher percentage of Americans in prison than the Soviet Union had under Stalin.
We have more people in prison than the 35 largest European countries combined.
We pay $47,000 per year to house these people in illegally overcrowded conditions with substandard medical care. Both of these issues have resulted in repeated Federal court orders mandating an improvement of conditions which often end in threats by the court to order a mass release of inmates.
By coincidence the California Correctional Officer's PAC has spent over $11,000,000 in political campaign contributions in the last seven years. About half of that went to Governors races.
Now money is tight in California right now. State workers have been forced to play furlough roulette with Governor Schwarzenegger for over a year now. (some say this has more to do with union busting than economy.) The prison system makes up about 11% of the state budget.
Why not try something different?
The vast majority of non-violent crimes are either recreational substance use or unorthodox solutions to the problem of simply not having enough money to make ends meet.
Well, lets give them the money.
Give them the $47,000 it costs to keep them inside for a year and kick 'em loose. Enroll them in a mandatory training program of their choice. We save the cost of the remainder of their sentence. Sure, some of them will go back inside and a few will OD on their chemical of choice. I'll bet you a bottle of single malt that if we try it we beat the 67% recidivism rate that goes with our current system of warehousing the under-class. Even with the same rate we get to close 7 prisons and save millions of dollars a year. In addition, millions more go into circulation immediately and supply needed stimulation to the ailing economy.
What have we got to lose? We have cut education, mental health and the Governator even tried to kill the accidental poisoning hotline. This makes at least a much sense as those draconian measures.
Be seeing you