An analysis of Prison Reform in the US

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As of this year California is facing a 25.4 billion dollar deficit. Sounds like a big number right? Well, the California Corrections Department consumes almost 10% of the annual state budget. With such a high deficit and more people serving longer sentences the annual cost to run the corrections department will only rise every year. Currently the major problem facing the CDCR is prison overcrowding and the state doesn't have any money to work with. Were actually 208% over capacity sense the California prisons were only designed to house 100,000 inmates' total. The average prisoner costs 35,000 a year and elderly prisoners cost 70,000 and more a year due to more medical treatments. So how do we solve this overcrowding?

The governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, proposed a 10.9 billion dollar increase in order to create new beds for jails and prisons. Of this, 4.4 billion went into our prison system creating over 16k beds, new training facilities, and made a new modernized death row at San Quinton. New medical, dental, and mental facilities were also constructed under this proposal. Sounds to me that he just wants to throw money at the issue and hope it gets fixed.

Some possible solutions that I believe will fix the current system is reforming the 3 strikes law, releasing all non-violent drug and small time offenders, deporting all illegal inmates, privatize prison health care, and build more prisons. All of the solutions I offer would save the tax payer more money and make more beds available for future criminals.

The 3 strikes law was established in the 90's with an overwhelming amount of support in California. The three strikes laws are statutes enacted by state governments in the United States which call for the state courts to hand down a mandatory and extended period of incarceration to persons who have been convicted of a serious criminal offense on three or more separate occasions. The law was supposed to lock up hardcore criminals such as rapists, murders, killers, and child molesters. Instead it has locked up criminals for petty crime and drugs than it has dangerous people. The first part of the law is the second strike component. That is one prior serious felony or violent felony plus any felony gets you double the prison sentence. The second part of the law is the 3rd strike component. That is 2 prior serious or violent felonies plus any felony resulting in you getting 25 years to life. There is no good time credit offered under this law, 2 strikes can come out of one case, juvenile strikes carry into adult life, and offenders can't be eligible for parole until they have served their full sentence. Did you also know that 2/3rds of the people locked up under the law are non- violent? As of 2008 there were 41,284 prisoners locked up because of this law.

My solution is to let most of the non- violent drug and small crime offenders out and send them to a boot camp facility like tent city in Arizona. There will be 2 kinds of facilities, one focusing on drug rehabilitation and the other implementing chain gangs. The goal would be to rehabilitate the people in for drug charges so they don't become repeat offenders. For the others, using a chain gang sets an example for the public to see showing that prison isn't fun and this would be a great deterrent. I know if I saw people chained up connected to one other cleaning the street I wouldn't ever want to commit a crime. Why should we pay for them to have TV, coffee, and other things when they are there for punishment? They can eat baloney sandwiches, live in military surplus tents, and do community service if it was up to me. Remember this is your tax dollars here. I think that this is a good solution instead of having them sit in our prisons wasting tax dollars and raising the deficit.

Below is a story told by a 3 striker of his last and final offence: "I was standing about 30 feet from a friend who was transacting a $20 cocaine sale.  I was found guilty of aiding and abetting and received a 25 year to LIFE sentence.  The person who conducted the sale was found guilty and received a four year sentence.  He served only two years.  My previous strikes were committed against my own family and neighbors.  My Mom practiced "tough love" and made me turn myself in for these burglaries of merchandise under $1,000 in value with the hope I would get treatment for my drug addiction.  I did not get treatment and these burglaries were counted as strikes under California's Three Strike Law so I was given what is, in reality, a life sentence."

When people go to prison I think they should be there for punishment. But many of these people come out without being rehabilitated and they commit another crime putting them right back in prison.  

In November of 2007 a Bakersfield man, Robert Fostbender, was facing prosecution for 77 years after stealing a package of donuts. He was on his 3rd strike and now he may very well go away for 77 years and most likely die in prison. I think that he should be punished but should we have to pay for him to sit in prison that long just for donuts! Most of the people arrested from this law are middle aged anyways meaning we will also have to pay for their healthcare rises when their older.

Another problem is the prison healthcare system. In 2007 officials were urging either a court takeover of the prison health care system or handing over the system to private practice because of the deplorable state of prison hospitals in California. According to the state department of finance, annual health care spending has risen from $2,714 in 1995 to $13,778 in 2009 for each of the state's inmates. Recently the University of Texas researchers found California averages $6,935 annually on each inmate's direct care, while Ohio and Texas each spend less than $4,300 an inmate. New York also spends $5,813, while Florida averages $4,330 on inmate health care, just about the same as the federal prison system. The overcrowding in our prisons is also the main reason for poor inadequate healthcare. So why is California spending more than others? Overall we spend more due to unnecessary treatments and over-hospitalization, administrative waste, and misleading drug company marketing.

A way to solve the problem is to use private hospitals. By changing state law to let prison manager's contract with full-service private hospitals, clinics and doctors would lower cost and improve the quality of inmate care.  Many other states are already using private contractors to reduce costs and improve flexibility and performance. Today in Illinois there are three competing companies running the entire state system.  As a result, the state's health costs, at just under $1,700 per inmate a year, are lower today than they were in 1991 and are the second lowest in the whole nation. If it is proven to work then why don't we give it a try? Competition is a good thing.

Another major contributor to our overcrowding that people don't realize is illegal's. In the 1980's, less than 9,000 criminal aliens were in U.S. prisons. Now we house over 267,000 non U.S. citizens at our expense as of 2006. That study was done over 3 years ago so the number has probably risen closer to 300,000 as of 2010. That's 1/3rd of the total prison population not being American citizens. Illegal's also cause 21% of the crime in the U.S. Over all it costs states and the federal government 1.6 billion a year to pay for their incarceration as of 2008. So why are we paying for them to have a free shelter, bed, food, and healthcare? Many people fear that if we deport them back to their own country they won't face any prison time or prosecution there so they need to serve their sentence here. I understand there logic on this but a huge waste of money!

In order to save billions of dollars every year we need to immediately deport them back to their country and make sure they get prosecuted by their own government or finish their sentences in their own country. In order for this to happen we need to have a signed agreement with other countries and an oversight committee to make sure these offenders are being prosecuted. It is a lot cheaper to deport them and start a committee than paying for them in our prisons. Another idea I had was to have illegal convicts help build a border fence at their own choice of being deported or work and then after completion get deported. The fence won't stop but will reduce the amount of illegals in the country and prison system.

A simple solution that politicians mostly talk about is the idea to build more prisons because that would surely solve the problem for now, but what about the years to come? Lawmakers say building a new prison would cost around 2 billion and where would we get that money? I'm sure Obama wouldn't mind increasing the deficit but I do! Others say to sell the old prisons like Alcatraz which is worth close to 2 billion while others say if we sell it would cost the same amount we sold it for or even more to build a new prison to take its place. And even if we did build more prisons officials say that they would be at full capacity by 2015 and then were at the same situation we're in right now.

Meanwhile if you watch the news then you have probably heard about the inmates on death row. Inmates on death row in California cost the prison system roughly 90,000 dollars a year. With our death row population at 670 inmates it costs 63.3 million annually to keep them there while most of them sit for 11 to 15 years before being put to death. We either need to use the death penalty or get rid of it. We can't have prisoners cost tax payers 3 times the amount of an average inmate when they don't put the established system to work. Last year in Texas they executed 24 people on death row and California has only executed 13 since 1976! With only 690 people sitting on their currently since July 2010. The longer they sit the more it costs us in the end. I support the death penalty but if it isn't going to be used then there is no reason for us to pay for the upkeep of it.

As you also know innocent people are sitting in prison waiting for their day of freedom. The Innocence project is a non- profit legal clinic committed to freeing the wrongly convicted through DNA testing. By providing extra funding to the clinic more people will be released saving us money in the end that were paying to incarcerate them and also compensation. Compensation should be given to the wrongly convicted but if we can reduce the number of innocent people we also reduce the chance of a lawsuit and million dollar compensation.

Taken as a whole, California's prison system needs reform. By giving it a complete overhaul we can fix a lot of the issues troubling the system such as overcrowding and poor medical care caused by the 3 strikes law, illegal immigrants, and death row. By fixing the problems within we can reduce the spending and stop the deficit from increasing. I think that people should write to the governor and put pressure on the politicians because until then we will just keep on throwing away our money or the courts will take over the system eventually. I believe my solutions can solve California's prison crisis and put us on track in the right direction.

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