News

Trim state expenses, improve prison system with AB900 reforms

California's $8 billion deficit is forcing the state to make some hard choices. But our union's research estimates that we can trim hundreds of millions in waste from the California Department of Corrections each year and improve our prison system at the same time.

Last April, the California State Legislature passed Assembly Bill 900-the landmark prison reform law that provided $7.7 billion in general fund and bond money to reduce overcrowding and expand rehabilitation programs in our state prisons.

After a year of meetings, reports and news releases, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has failed to make significant progress in the implementation of key reforms. This failure is in part due to persistent waste and mismanagement and the inability of CDCR to competently manage and oversee its programs, contractors and prisoners. This is costing California taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

We outline a series of cost-saving reforms in a new report called "The California Bottom Line" (available at www.thecabottomline.org) that is part of a series of reports by SEIU Local 1000 designed to help Californians save billions over time by making smarter choices in state spending.

The second edition of "The California Bottom Line" details more than $1 billion in taxpayer savings. For example:

• Fully implementing rehabilitation reforms enacted in AB900 can save $561 to $684 million.

• Cutting overspending on contracting out in prisons would save between $125 million and $178 million.

• Promptly recalculating prisoner release dates, as ordered in two state appellate court decisions and one state Supreme Court decision, could save up to $218 million.

CDCR needs to make a more serious commitment to rehabilitation – just adding the word "rehabilitation" to the agency's title is not enough. Numerous studies in other states have shown that inmates who gain educational and vocational training are much less likely to commit new crimes after their release from prison.

Currently fewer than 15 percent of CDCR inmates are enrolled in traditional education or vocational programs. If the department were to increase enrollment to a modest 50 percent by placing newly enrolled prisoners in vocational education programs, taxpayers would save about $460 million over the mid- to long-term.

But the CDCR has been slow to implement a comprehensive case management plan that will enable the department to tailor its rehabilitation programming to each prisoner. In fact, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a SEIU Local 1000-sponsored bill, SB263, that would have required the CDCR to implement real assessments of prisoners to determine their risks and needs. He claimed the law was "unnecessary." Currently, the CDCR is attempting to weaken AB900 to limit the inmate assessment requirement to new prisoners entering the prison system.

Our CDCR budget recommendations are part of a program to highlight our union members' ideas that promote more effective and efficient government while reducing the need to cut vital services or raise taxes.

In the coming months, SEIU Local 1000 will publish additional research at www.thecabottomline.org showing alternatives to the governor's demand that all department budgets be slashed by 10 percent or that we increase the outsourcing of state services.


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