Cali Prison

California faces a crisis of rising costs inside the state’s correctional facilities. Estimates now show that the average price to house one inmate for the year has climbed to nearly $76,000.

The United States’ typical price per inmate hovers around $32,000. At well over double the national average, California risks falling even deeper into debt. The state’s troubling trend puts not only the 130,000 inmates at risk but the entire public as well.

A series of federal court orders in response to prison overcrowding can be attributed to the failure to relocate correctional staff in proportion to their shrinking inmate numbers. Right On Crime correctly notes that “many states can learn from the California experience and take pro-active steps to avoid federal court intervention that removes the issue from the democratic process and can impose costs beyond the ability of policymakers to manage.”

California’s new spot as the most costly correctional system in the nation has been a mounting problem since 2005. Costs have doubled in the last decade and the state now tops New York in dollars per inmate. Federal government intervention has cornered the state into programs and initiatives that have proved inefficient.

State Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Republican from the 4th District, blames the unforeseen expenditures on a series of misleading statements during the reform process. A “prison dividend” would have been paid out from savings in other areas to offset the skyrocketing costs, but the legislature has failed to effectively establish these programs according to Nielsen. According to a 2012 study by the National Institute of Corrections, taxpayers in California are confronted with a near 50% increase in inmate costs when compared to other states.

States approaching justice and sentencing reform initiatives should take proactive measures hands while looking closely at California to prevent similar problems in local communities.

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