Thursday, April 2, 2009

Secretary Cate: Seeking Prison Expansion

The Associated Press reports that Secretary Cate plans to ask state legislators to expand three prisons.

The construction projects would be the first to draw money from a nearly $8 billion bond measure approved two years ago. The money was stalled, though, until Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the state budget into law in February.

Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate said he plans to seek approval within weeks to build more cellblocks at two prisons near Delano and to convert a juvenile lockup near Paso Robles. Those moves combined would house 2,800 inmates.

The $810 million Cate will seek from legislative budget committees would pay for those three expansions, plus building a re-entry center in Stockton for 500 inmates who are nearing the end of their prison terms. It would be the first of several planned regional re-entry centers to help inmates adjust in the months before they are paroled.

(this was one of the urgent projects seeking approval and financed by bonds approved in 2007, per the L.A. Times)

(and another aspect of the whole thing: prison construction is regarded as one way to generate construction jobs. One person's problem is another's salvation).

I have no doubt that prison authorities are sincere in regarding prison expansion as a viable way to reduce overcrowding; however, I can't help but think about conversations I've had with my father, a transport planner, who often marvels at how new roads built to relieve congestion generate incentives to buy more cars, thus increasing traffic. I know the metaphor is not perfect, but it has been preying on my mind.


Zot said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again:

My suggestion is to convert the $400 Million Coalinga State Hospital from a civil commitment warehouse which has manifestly failed in its mission into a prison hospital for seriously ill or very elderly inmates. This would, in addition to saving a great deal of money on prison construction, have the benefit of reducing the overcrowding that may lead to the federal courts ordering early parole for dangerous inmates.

As a treatment center for sex offenders CSH has been an utter failure - almost no one has completed the phase treatment and been released (and several of
those who did have been reconfined), the majority of the inmates refuse to participate in a program which has absolutely no scientific grounding and (because the place was designed as a hospital prison) it routinely violates the civil rights of the inmates costing the state millions in lawsuits. The
DMH has been so unsuccessful in recruiting qualified staff to live in such a remote area that it has resorted to huge signing bonuses and pay grade multipliers. And let's not forget that quite a few of the evaluators they've hired on a contract basis earned more than the Governor himself did last year.

Civil commitment was sold to the public on the premise that sex offenders have a high recidivism rate. Many studies, including ones done by the US Dept. of
Justice, show that this is a false assumption. Even worse (from the point of view of actual as opposed to perceived public safety) is that the hospital
only accepts the least violent candidates for civil commitment.

If you are worried about public reaction to ending civil commitment, offer the inmates the alternative of wearing a GPS tracker and attending out-patient
therapy (the latter having been shown to be quite cost effective.) Point out that many of the people warehoused at CSH are too old to be much of a threat
to anyone and that doing this will prevent even worse dangers to the public safety being released early.

This is also a change that should be easy to sell to the prison guards' union - a prison hospital run by the Dept of Corrections is likely to use more regular guards than a state hospital run by the Dept. of Mental Health.

All in all the people of California are poorly served by a civil commitment center which has given no evidence it will ever work as promised, but could
benefit greatly by having a ready made facility able to house and care for over 1000 prisoners.

Hadar Aviram said...

To generalize from your point, Zot, one way to save money and work on overcrowding is to look at the places and resources in the current system in general, and do a new version of "what works". I'll post something about this tomorrow.

Also: the low recidivism rates for sex offenders is a fact that often draws serious fire at professional meetings and conferences, as if it was an opinion rather than fact, or as if saying that is somehow belittling the harm of sexual offenses. We need to learn to look beyond the rhetoric, to factual evidence, and have that inform our decisions.