The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) issued a press release late last week stating that they would be canceling all non-mandated visiting at all 33 adult prisons from June 25th – 26th.
In the final two weeks of their fiscal year, the department is “getting serious” about staying under budget. They’ll save a whopping $400,000 by shutting out the children, spouses, partners, parents, friends and extended families of over 100,000 inmates, just one weekend after Father’s Day.
Of course, it’s not unusual for California’s state agencies– or the State of California, for that matter– to put the burden of budget blunders on the backs of the poor and vulnerable. Take a look at Governor Schwarzenegger’s May budget revise for cuts to services for families, children, elderly, and disabled people.
To be honest, I have low hopes for the CDCR. The department is consistent in one way only: going over budget. I don’t expect the CDCR to undergo transformation– to demonstrate sensible fiscal management, to put rehabilitation first, or do anything other than pen people up in cages. That’s what CA prisons are designed for. Looking for new ways of doing the same old thing likely won’t generate savings or better public safety outcomes. Certainly eroding the connection between inmates and their families won’t do it.
If the State of California wants to reduce corrections costs and increase public safety, we need to reduce the number of people in prison and build a more effective system. Ella Baker Center has teamed up with the ACLU of Northern California and the Drug Policy Alliance to propose a series of public safety fixes that would save California $550 million of general fund dollars annually through the Budget Justice Coalition.
Perhaps not as sexy or punitive as canceling visitation for prisoners’ families, the following reforms blow the CDCR’s $400,000 savings out of the water:
Move incarceration for low-level offenses to the counties, while also reducing the impact on the counties by limiting lengthy sentences:
* Adjust the dollar threshold for felony property theft—not changed since 1982;
* Make certain low-level drug and property crimes into misdemeanors; and
* Make possession of small amounts of drugs (for personal use) a misdemeanor.
Eliminate unnecessary costs at the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation:
* Eliminate Time Adds which unnecessarily extend the sentences of youth; and
* Replace the costly and dysfunctional death penalty with permanent imprisonment.
Provide judges more flexibility in sentencing, to safely reduce the costs of handling low-level offenses at the county level:
* Eliminate probation ineligibility for some low-level drug and property crimes; and
* Eliminate mandatory minimum jail sentences for some low-level misdemeanors.
These recommendations and other information can be found at the Budget Justice blog. Each and and any of these changes would save the state millions and create a more just and effective system whereas keeping inmates from seeing their loved ones will do nothing to support their rehabilitation.
These reforms won’t happen overnight. But in less than a week, the families of the men and women in CDCR prisons will be shut out. You can email Matthew Cate, Secretary of the CDCR, at Matt.Cate@cdcr.ca.gov, and let him know you think it’s wrong to scramble for petty, last-second fiscal savings by canceling visitation for over 100,000 inmates.
Kris Lev-Twombly is the Director of Programs at the Ella Baker Center.