By Patricia Marrone Bennett
In 1982, I was the lobbyist for the Friends Committee on Legislation, a Quaker sponsored advocacy group. Jerry Brown was ending his first term as Governor. One of the most detrimental pieces of legislation that was passed at that time was the authorization of the construction of Tehachapi prison, the first prison to be authorized in 100 years in California. This authorization opened the flood gates of what was to be the worst investment that California has ever made as it paved the way for the massive prison construction effort that followed.
The Governor’s recent early release of non-violent offenders, along with the establishment of the Community Correction Partnership mandating that counties create and implement plans for retaining non-violent offenders, was an important step in mitigating the harmful effects of investing so heavily in prison construction and the ever increasing annual costs for operating them. However, the Governor’s latest plan to send prisoners out of state and to privately operated prisons will contribute to further negative consequences for our State.
Research has demonstrated that a person who maintains ties with family while incarcerated has a greater chance of being successfully reintegrated into the community upon his or her release. Moving prisoners out of state will greatly reduce the opportunity for families to remain in contact thus further frustrating rehabilitation attempts.
The proposal to send California State prisoners to privately operated prisons is abhorrent in every regard. The ethical and moral implications of this proposal are enormous. The vast majority of our prisons are filled with people of color who are poor, undereducated, and have mental health and substance abuse issues. As a result of incarcerating generations of heads of households, we have doomed the economy of whole communities by first removing wage earners and then making it difficult for people returning from prison to find jobs. It seems to be adding insult to injury to propose to transfer these same people to private prisons that will often make enormous profits.
We should never have built the number of prisons we now have. We should never have expanded our sentencing laws to the degree we have. We should have implemented an Early Release Act years ago. Given the fact that California incarcerates more people per capita than any other industrialized nation, we have created not only an enormous fiscal burden for the State but also a moral example that puts us to shame before the rest of the world.