Thursday, January 7, 2010
The Cost of Prisons
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made the news yesterday by proposing a constitutional amendment requiring California to spend more money on higher education than on prisons. At present, he says, the state spends 11% of its budget on prisons ($10.6 billion a year) and 7% on higher ed. I think this is a horrible idea, for two reasons. First, California's budgetary process is already tied in knots by several different, conflicting constitutional rules about how it can and cannot raise and spend money, and it doesn't need any more. Second, Arnold doesn't have a real plan to reduce spending on prisons. He supports privatization, which means using private companies because they can get away with paying workers less. This might help a little, but the experience of other states has been that the savings are less than promised and come with lots of headaches. The real problem is that we have too many people in prison -- 170,000 in the California state system. Eliminating prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders would do a lot more to save money than the most sweeping privatization scheme.