Thursday, August 13, 2009

Folsom Prison Blues

We often hear it said: "If you want to see the future, look at California." If that's true, the future for prisons is bleak. Today's edition of All Things Considered chronicles the descent of California's Folsom Prison from the pinnacle of effective to an abject failure. Laura Sullivan reports that in 1968 almost every Folsom inmate "was in school or learning a professional trade. The cost of housing them barely registered on the state budget. And when these men walked out of Folsom free, the majority of them never returned to prison."

But now:

  • It now houses 4,427--more than twice the 1800 it housed in 1968.
  • It's once-vaunted education and work programs have been cut to just a few classes, with waiting lists more than 1,000 inmates long.
  • Officers are on furlough.
  • Its medical facility is under federal receivership.
  • And like every other prison in the state, 75 percent of the inmates who are released from Folsom today will be back behind bars within three years.

So what happened? Simple. Californians decided to "get tough" rather than "get smart" on crime. Thanks to harsh sentencing laws, habitual offender policies, and the war on drugs, California's prison population exploded from 20,000 to 167,000.

The result: Californians today are less safe and facing insolvency. If you are interested in criminal justice reform, you must listen to this report.

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