What happens when a nation gets tough on crime in a state that hasn’t recently had its prisons run by a federal judge? Massive overcrowding. In budget-strapped California, its prisons are running close to double their designed capacity. The Chino riot last August 8th was a consequence of such overcrowding, and more such riots may be on tap in the future.
Federal judges are making a move to correct California’s prisons – the worst overcrowded in the nation. California has 45 days to figure out how they’re going to get their prisons to 137% of capacity. If someone had a time machine, maybe that could produce a fix. Back in 1976, California switched from indeterminate sentencing to determinate sentencing. The big difference there is that indeterminate sentencing allows for leeway – time off for good behavior, that sort of thing. Determinate sentencing means tossing ’em in the slammer and not fetching the key until the sentence is up, giving prisoners no incentive to change their ways. California went from having one of the lowest recidivist rates in the nation in the 70s to one of the highest recidivist rates in recent years – around 70% when the national average is 40%.
Politicians wanting to gain brownie points with voters for being tough on crime haven’t helped the situation. Longer sentences and harsher sentencing rules led to the overcrowding. California also spends $49,000 per prisoner per year, double the national average. Given the recidivist rate mentioned above, it’s clear that the prison system in California isn’t working as intended. If it’s there to deter criminals, it shouldn’t be so dang crowded with criminals that wound up back in the system.
Then the budget crisis hit. California looks set to cut $1.2 billion from its prison budget, but lawmakers don’t necessarily want to do it by releasing 27,000 inmates. So it’s got a budget cut, but no way to implement it… well, if there are more riots like the one in Chino, maybe the prisoners will solve the crisis for the state by burning down the prisons and the survivors releasing themselves on their own recognizance.
Good luck with those prisons, California.