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Excess, Deprivation Mark State Prisons

Publication Date: 
December 11, 2009
The Orange County Register
Brian Joseph and Tony Saavedra

Professor Joan Petersilia, co-director of Stanford University's Criminal Justice Center, is quoted in this article on reforming California's prison system:

For 20 years, the gymnasium at San Quentin has served as overflow housing for the residents of California's most notorious prison.

Beneath rimless backboards, more than 300 inmates pass the time playing cards or working out among the long rows of metal bunks that crowd the gym. San Quentin is home to California's Death Row and some of its most dangerous criminals.

But the most difficult post for the prison guards is the gymnasium, which houses murderers, parole violators and all manner of criminals in between.


"We cannot reduce recidivism unless programs are funded that open up opportunities for ex-convicts to create alternatives to a criminal lifestyle," wrote Stanford's Joan Petersilia, an expert on California prisons, in 2008.

"Few inmates leaving California prisons today have participated in education, substance abuse, or vocational training, almost guaranteeing their failure after release."


Petersilia, the Stanford prison expert, says that by virtue of its political rhetoric and money, the CCPOA "has been more successful than any other correctional union in the nation at winning benefits for its members."

In "California's Correctional Paradox of Excess and Deprivation," a book chapter Petersilia wrote in 2008, she estimated that 70 percent of the state's prison budget goes to staff salaries and benefits. Those high costs impact California's ability to devote more resources to rehabilitation, which she attributes to California's high rate of recidivism.

The prison union agrees with Petersilia's conclusions, but says you can't blame its members for the state's limited investment in rehabilitation. Union spokesman Lance Corcoran said that the state needs to offer prison guards competitive salaries and benefits in order to attract good employees. (See chart of how much public safety groups have spent on political lobbying in California).