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October 25, 2007

Wildfires and wild prison growth in California

Like so many others, I am saddened by all the wildfire news from California and intrigued to watch Governor Schwarzenegger have a chance to be a real-life action hero.  And yet, influenced by this strong new piece on California's prison woes and this strong follow-up post at Corrections Sentencing, I cannot help but see some sentencing and corrections stories through all flames.  Specifically, today I am thinking about wildfires and wild prison growth in economic terms.

As this article details, California's bloated and ineffective prison system already costs state taxpayers about $10 billion per year.  In addition, because federal courts are threatening to take control of the California system due to chronic overcrowding, California's "state politicians — urged on by Schwarzenegger — this year approved a $7.3 billion emergency measure, known as AB 900, to expand the system by a mammoth 53,000 beds."

These cost numbers for California's wild prison growth provides an interesting perspective on the news reports that the wildfire damages are likely to exceed $1 billion.  Put another way, for all fire destruction we see on the news, the overall economic damages are only about what California taxpayers spend every single month to run (poorly) its corrections system.

Of course, it is not the economics, but the tragedies of personal harms and disrupted lives that draws our interest.  But, whether you focus on the harms to victims from high rates of recidivism or the harms to defendants and their families from high rates of incarceration, the costs of California's out-of-control criminal justice system in terms of personal harms and disrupted lives is also remarkable.

Some related posts on California's prison woes:

October 25, 2007 at 01:51 PM | Permalink

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Comments

This post is right on point. It is hard not to think about all the financial resources the state and counties would have available if they were not spending all their resources locking up 150,000+ prioners, many of whom are non-violent offenders.

Law Student

Posted by: Anonymous | Oct 26, 2007 3:28:24 AM

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