Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California was on the mark when he said this week that the state needed to change policies that spend more money on prisons than on the state’s once-vaunted higher education systems, which are being bled to death in budget cuts. But Mr. Schwarzenegger was way off the mark when he suggested that the answer was to privatize prison services or to pass yet another constitutional amendment, this time to limit prison spending.
This NY Times editorial goes on to criticize the proposal to privatize prison in hopes of some future cost savings. Such proposals are the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic (forgive the trite phrase). As the editorial correctly points out, the root of the problem is too many people in prison (and the same can be said for probation). Sentencing reform is the only mechanism to save the prison systems with the exception of court interventions. I predict that we are headed to a new round of litigation and monitoring similar to that of the 1980s.
California is not the only state facing this problem. Several states have begun the process of reducing prison populations, even to the point of closing some prisons. Idaho is one of those state, though, that will continue to refuse to recognize that it also needs sentencing reforms. I see law suits on the horizon, the State will spend money defending its correctional system, but in the end will have to make some adjustments.
The fault with the current peril lies primarily in the legislature. Two key committees, the Judiciary and Rules Committees of both the senate and the house, should step up and begin the reform process. But don't hold your proverbial breath.