November 23, 2008
Effective editorial noting bills coming due for Califorinia's toughness
This morning's Sacremento Bee has this effective editorial headlined "Time to pay for getting tough on crime." Here are some excerpts:
There's an old kids' joke, "How do you know if there's an elephant under your bed?" Answer: "Your nose is touching the ceiling."
As California lawmakers and the governor grapple with the reality of multibillion-dollar deficits stretching into the future, they can no longer ignore the elephant in the rotunda: prison spending. That elephant has become a mammoth because lawmakers over the last 25 years have created longer and longer sentences and reduced the ability of prisoners to shave off prison time for good behavior.
The charts show the result. A greater proportion of the state's population now is in prison and a greater share of the prison population is aged. Older people have greater health needs and so cost a lot to keep in prison. They are taking up beds, producing overcrowded prisons.
Those in prison aren't eligible for Medicare, the federal health program for the nation's elderly. Nor are they eligible for Medi-Cal, the health program for the poor in which costs are shared between the state and the federal government. So the entire cost of health care for older, sick prisoners falls on the state. All of this is now in the federal courts because the state has refused to create alternatives for dealing with feeble, chronically ill prisoners to reduce prison population – or to pay for building facilities to house these prisoners....
It's no mystery what prevents the state from dealing with this issue: Politicians of both parties fall over each other to see who's tougher on crime. The latest is Attorney General Jerry Brown asserting, falsely, that if Californians want "top-drawer care," they have to "go to prison." You can tell who's running for governor in 2010.
So here's another joke on California. What did lawmakers and the governor say when the elephant moved into the Capitol? Nothing! They didn't notice. Except this is no longer a laughing matter. Our nose is flat against the ceiling already, and the elephant is still growing.