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California Prison Construction

Ruth Cashmere

Recently studies have shown that the United States has the world's highest incarceration rate. The United States has 426 prisoners per 100,000 population.

Over the past 10 years, the state of California has experienced the greatest increase in state prison population surpassing others throughout the country. The California inmate population in 1979 was 22,500, and has dramatically grown to 100,000.

In 1988 the California Department of Corrections listed an average incarceration rate of 177 inmates per week. California currently has 34,000 more state prisoners than New York, the second largest system in the country.

As California schools have experienced severe budget cuts, the 100,000th inmate was locked into a system which is increasing more rapidly than any other state program. California has a $4.5 billion prison construction budget, with seven new prisons planned. In 1986, the previous governor of the state of California proposed an aggressive program to build more prisons. It was believed by this administration that the solution for an alleged increase in crime was to incarcerate more of the population. Recommendations to increase alternative sentencing programs and to develop community correctional facilities were not met with a great deal of support. A trend, unfortunately reflected throughout most of the country.

A minimum-security facility recently built in the rural area of Avenal, California has brought an increase of $200,000 in state revenue per year, to an economically disadvantaged town. Other central valley towns such as Corcoran, Madera and Wasco have built both minimum and maximum-security facilities as well. Northern California has followed these examples and constructed a maximum-security facility in Crescent City, too. Prison construction creates jobs and has become "big business in the state of California."

The Blue Ribbon Commission Report on inmate population management from Sacramento, California has made several findings and recommendations to ease prison and jail overcrowding in California. According to this report changes must be made in correctional policies and practices. One of the many recommendations by the commission is that the legislature adopt a Community Corrections Act to provide funds to localities to expand such community based programs as electronic surveillance, work furlough, mother/child programs, community service, substance abuse prevention, restitution centers and non-residential treatment programs.

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