Calif. Struggles to Cut Prison Spending

Cash-strapped California spends billions on its prison system, but lawmakers are having a hard time cutting prison expenses as it tries to trim a $20-billion budget deficit.

The San Jose Mercury News reported March 24 that harsh sentencing laws have exploded the state’s prison population over the past 20 years, making it difficult to cut the staff of corrections officers — whose salaries and benefits account for two-thirds of the prison budget.

Healthcare expenses for prisoners are being monitored by a federal receiver, and lawmakers are loathe to cut prison sentences and release prisoners lest they be accused of being soft on crime. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association also has opposed reducing sentences to release prisoners, since a lower prison population would require fewer prison guards.

One place that California has been able to cut funding is rehabilitation services for prisoners, including addiction treatment programs.

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