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Don't use prisoner release to balance California budget

Posted: March 21, 2008 1:56 a.m.
Updated: May 22, 2008 5:02 a.m.
Probably the most eye-opening aspect of the governor's 10 percent across-the-board state budget cuts is the immediate release of 22,000 dangerous felons onto the streets of California. If Gov.Schwarzenegger's intention was to scare our state legislators into action, let's hope the action taken doesn't initiate abject pandemonium.

Since the state's $16 budget deficit seems to be rising daily, the governor's May Revise budget could show that California is $19-20 billion in the red. The idea of an across-the-board 10 percent cut seems oddly sophomoric, because there are no prioritized distinctions. How could legislative budget committees come up with accurate cuts now, when the numbers might drastically change by May?

In a recent press interview, Schwarzenegger likened the state legislators to Kabuki dancers. He also said that he would like to lock them all in a room and not let them out until they made a deal.

What did he mean? Perhaps he was suggesting that he Kabuki dance with the girly-men until they were emasculated enough to pass his budget.

Scare tactics have a way of compounding themselves into irrational conduct. Speaking of which, some Democrats in the state Legislature advocate letting not 22,000, but upwards of 40,000, serious and repeat criminals into our communities under the guise of a prison population cap.

Yes, that's right. They also want to allow a panel of three federal judges to oversee this prison population cap. Talk about our worst nightmare coming true! Imagine, 40,000 criminals convicted of serious crimes suddenly being released and allowed to lurk around in our neighborhoods and businesses, not to mention near our schools and public parks.

Under an early release program in my hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the 1980s, almost all of the 9,700 inmates released were re-asserted within a few years. During one 18-month period the new charges for those re-asserted included 79 murders, 90 rapes and 1,113 assaults. Do we really want this to happen in California?

Just in case you hear the Democrats tearfully speak of releasing "non-violent" criminals who pose no threat to society, let's be clear about the true definition of "non-violent." We are not talking about those convicted of traffic crimes, but actual repeat convicts of serious crime such as identity theft and burglary; not to mention registered sex offenders now serving time for lesser offenses.

Thankfully, Santa Clarita is represented in the California Assembly by Republican Cameron Smyth. I suggest - no, implore - that you go to his Web site and select "Keeping California Safe." He has brilliantly shined the light on the early prisoner release proposed program.

Concerning the 10 percent across-the-board budget cuts suggested by Schwarzenegger, I must agree with Republican Sen. Tom McClintock, who said in a column published in The Signal Friday, Feb. 1:
"Across-the-board cuts ... treat the highest of state priorities the same as the lowest. Instead of making 100-percent cuts in the utterly indefensible expenditures like tuition subsidies for illegal aliens and a vast array of duplicative or obsolete state programs, the governor proposes throwing the prison doors open."

Our governor ran on a platform of promising a complete audit in order to eliminate program duplications, cut waste and get rid of costly ineffective mandates. It would seem worthy to take the time to cut spending by being accountable rather than arbitrarily initiating across-the-board cuts.

Currently, there are approximately 173,000 prisoners in California state prisons. That number has risen 8 percent since 2003, and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's budget has grown 79 percent since then. It is now $8.5 billion, and projected to grow to $10 billion by 2009. This should be fixed by a departmental audit, not by releasing prisoners. McClintock has pointed out that the state of Florida spends $19,000 per prisoner, and California spends $32,000.

Democrats like to bemoan the very fact that California has so many prisoners, and thereby, their knee-jerk resolution is to send them back into society. Sorry, it doesn't work! Not only does empirical evidence show that crime will definitely increase, but we will also have to hire a huge amount of law enforcement personnel along with their expensive health and pension plans. The arrest rate will explode, the prison population will swell even further, and costs will rise off the charts.

Estimates (and these are only estimates, since real figures are hard to verify) show that 17 percent to 25 percent of those incarcerated in California state prisons are illegal aliens. Doing the math: 20 percent of 173,000 is 34,600. Why not complete the border fence and deport them? Not only is that double the governor's across-the-board proposed amount of savings, but it also has built in ancillary savings.

California Assemblyman Van Tran, a Republican from Orange County, has sponsored a bill, AB 2141, that helps the state identify which prisoners are here illegally, and fights to get federal money from Washington for housing them in California. Arizona recently adopted such a bill, and Californians should definitely pass our own.

The prisoner recidivism rate in our state stands at 70 percent, the worst of all 50 states. California's prisons house some of the most dangerous prisoners in the country. We cannot afford to have a three-judge federal panel impose a prison population cap. California families should not have to live in fear in their own homes and neighborhoods.

Paul B. Strickland Sr. is a resident of Santa Clarita. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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