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Tackling California's Overcrowded Prisons

Publication Date: 
March 29, 2010
New Hampshire Public Radio
Virginia Prescott

Professor Joan Petersilia, an expert on prison reform and prisoner reintegration, talks to Virginia Prescott of New Hampshire Public Radio on the proposed changes to relieve overcrowding in California prisons:

For the past two decades, the prison industry has helped transform the economies some states. New York, Texas, Tennessee and California have been exuberant in building prisons. Between 1984 and 1994, California built eight new maximum-security facilities. And penitentiaries are still busting at the seams.

Today, the Golden State’s budget crisis has forced lawmakers to examine major line items, including the $8 billion a year goes toward California’s penal system – that’s roughly 11% of the state’s total budget, exceeding the state’s education funding. Yet some prison gymnasiums now sleep inmates in wall-to-wall triple-bunk beds. Jailhouses are stuffed to double capacity.

Now, California is under court order to release thousands of non-violent offenders, many of whom, the state admits, will not likely be monitored by parole officers. What’s left of the state’s limited attention will be focused on inmates deemed a threat to society. Joan Petersilia, a criminologist at Stanford Law School, calls the changes in California a “seismic shift” in the country’s prison system.