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John Campbell

John Campbell (R-Irvine) is a California State Senator representing the 35th District in Orange County. He represents the cities of Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Irvine, Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Seal Beach and Cypress. He can be reached through his Senate website and through the website for his California Senate campaign. [go to Campbell index]

Correcting Corrections
Paying a lot for a little...
[John Campbell] 3/7/05

Corrections: It's a term that most people associate with something your 3rd grade teacher did to your math paper. But in the world of Sacramento, “corrections” means the organization within state government that runs all of the state prisons and parole operations. And it is a big part of the government.

How big, you ask? The budget for Youth and Adult Corrections (YACA) this year is about $7 Billion or about 8% of total general fund spending. Spending here has more than doubled as a percentage of the overall budget since the 1960's. There are about 164,000 prisoners incarcerated right now and another 106,000 on parole. These prisoners and parolees are supervised by about 52,000 state employees in the department.

And the system is troubled. Spending has spiraled out of control for a decade now. The department has blown its annual budget by upwards of $100 million a year, every year. That’s one billion dollars! If you do the math, you will see that we are spending nearly $32,000 per year on every prisoner or parolee. We have one employee for every 5 people in the system. And, we have one of the worst rates of recidivism in the country. That means that more of our prisoners wind up going back to prison after they have been released than in other states.

So, like many areas of California government, we spend a lot of money for a very poor outcome. Why? As is often the case, a government employee union deserves much of the blame. The prison guards union is known to be a very powerful political force in Sacramento. After donating huge money to Gray Davis, he granted them a contract that raised their already very high salaries by 8% a year and changed all kinds of work rules so more guards were needed at each prison. But in addition to the union, the system has been mismanaged for many years.

What should happen? First, the governor has suggested a reorganization of corrections that will streamline the organization. I support this. Secondly, the union contracts stand in the way of lots of improvements, and we will need to change those. Third, we should implement systems that other states have to help prisoners who have served their time to find success outside of prison so they stay out of prison. Faith-based organizations have a tremendous record of success here.

But there are a lot of obstacles. The governor's reorganization proposal for example eliminates the current requirement for Senate confirmation of prison wardens. Confirmation is there purely to enable the union to exercise its political muscle to try and block wardens who will make them work harder. The ACLU will not want faith-based organizations involved in any government activity, even when they succeed where secular government fails.

Why is this important? With the recently voter-affirmed “Three Strikes” law, we have the best protection in the country against the hardened incorrigible criminal. Our prison population will always be justifiably higher because of this. But for that first time offender or minor offender, we have a moral and fiscal responsibility to do what we can to help them re-enter society as productive members after they have served their time.

Why am I writing about this now? Because the governor is trying to improve matters here, and I am now on a couple of committees in the Senate which deal with the Corrections department. Like everything else, we will have to fight off special interests (who benefit from more and more prisoners) and others to get this done. CRO



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