SACRAMENTO – According to the details of the state budget deal released yesterday, Sacramento will cut $1.1 billion from the corrections budget. Advocates who have been pushing for cuts to the corrections budget cried foul, saying that the promised cuts – $820 million of which are to come from reductions in prison health care spending – lack any plausible basis and will not be realized.
“Putting prison cuts on paper doesn’t make it true,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance in Southern California. “Promising cuts to corrections without making policy changes to reduce the prison population should be put in the same category as gimmicks, borrowing and overly sunny revenue projections.”
This is the second budget year in a row that Sacramento will announce over $1 billion in unspecified cuts to corrections. In 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a budget that included $1.2 billion in unallocated cuts to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The only announced cut was a 40% reduction in rehabilitation spending. The $280 million cut to rehabilitation programs for inmates and parolees meant shortening in-custody drug treatment to three months (from 6-36 months) and laying off as many as 800 teachers, librarians, counselors and other program staff. Meanwhile, in 2009, prison health care costs actually rose and no overall spending reduction materialized that year.
Prison health care costs are not managed by the state, but by a court-appointed federal receiver. The federal courts put a federal receiver in charge of the state prison health care system in 2006 after it was determined that the prisons were providing unconstitutionally poor health care. One of the court findings was that an average of one inmate was dying each week of preventable causes. That system’s health care spending, which Sacramento says it will cut, remains under that federal authority.
“California could immediately and substantially cut prison spending by one billion dollars a year by handling petty drug offenses at the county level and making drug treatment more available,” Dooley-Sammuli added. “Instead, Sacramento has decided to again announce fake cuts that will not materialize and to continue spending $50,000 per person per year to send the lowest of the low-level drug offenders to state prison – where few, if any, will have access to drug treatment. Where’s the sense in that?”