Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Credit Crunch or Overstuffed Prisons? Why does Arnold Schwarzenegger want $7 billion from the feds?

Though the Governator linked his recent request for a federal bailout to falling housing prices and the crushing credit crunch, most of the cash will probably go to pay for inmate health care under a federal court order:
U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson made it clear Monday he expects California to pay $8 billion for seven new inmate medical facilities. But he stopped short of immediately holding Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Controller John Chiang in contempt for failing to turn over the money.
California requests $7 billion in federal bailout aid at the same moment they're about to be held in contempt for not ponying up for an $8 billion prisoner health care tab. Unbelievable.

Their Legislature failed to provide a solution, so that clears the way for federal courts to simply order them into compliance. I don't know much about California state politics but I have to wonder, without an overstuffed prison system would they even have a budget crisis?

If my crystal ball is working properly, we could be watching something happen on the West Coast that presages Texas' future. UTMB officials have told the Legislature in public hearings they're "close" to not providing a constitutional level of health care for inmates, citing Texas' low per-inmate spending rates in UTMB's contract - less than half the per-inmate cost in California. More inmates die in Texas prisons even though California houses more people. They're not doing much better at TYC. I've speculated that once we no longer had a Texan appointing Attorneys General, Texas might see similar litigation succeed over prison healthcare no matter who becomes president.

Texas has at least temporarily avoided a California-style prison overcrowding crisis - though TDCJ units are essentially at max capacity - but I've seen no evidence Texas' prisoner health services are any better than California's and with UTMB-Galveston (which runs 80% of the prison health care system) devastated by Hurricane Ike, for the time being their focus won't be on launching any major improvements.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Grits. Let's hope someone in the Gov's office is paying attention!

k said...

thanks for the post, I linked it to my federal criminal defense investigation blog in which we cover law and policy topics. http://federalcriminaldefenseinvestigator.blogspot.com/

Soronel Haetir said...

I may be mistaken but my understanding of the problems in I may be mistaken but a lot of CA's budget problems stem from direct budget allocation through referendum, a huge portion of the budget is allocated that way so their legislature's hands are tied.

Anonymous said...

Soronel, you are correct. Our CA budget is so loaded down with mandates brought about by initiatives placed on our ballots that gullable people always fall for. Crime initiatives are always big winners. I think the $7 billion the Gov. is asking for may just be an endrun around the State having to come up with the money out of the General fund to bring the system up to Constitutional levels.

If the Federal Government wants CA to fix the prison system, let the whole country pay. Smart. But I don't think it will fly. Bottom line though is our system is a completely dysfunctional black hole that is riddled with waste. Our penal system has become so complex and overreaching that the penalties are far more severe than the crimes committed.

Citizens are mostly ignorant of the system and have no desire to understand the issues the system has created. They fail to see the amount of waste being created by keeping so many low level and parole violators incarcerated. $47,000 a year each is alot of teachers salaries that could be paid.

The public likes to believe that the prison population is all murderers, rapists and pedofiles. That way they don't have to admit that we have the wrong people in our prisons. Only money will force them to open their eyes. In many respects this credit crunch is will force the legislature and the public to open their eyes.