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California: Budget Cuts Target Rehabilitation Programs

Forced to trim its budget by $1.2 billion, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is cutting back on rehabilitative programs that help reduce recidivism.
On October 14, 2009, Donovan State Prison closed its “Right Turn” substance abuse program that provided treatment for about 500 prisoners. In so doing, Donovan became the eighth California prison that does not provide any type of professional substance abuse program.

CDCR spokesperson Peggy Bengs reported that, in prisons where professional treatment services are not provided, the CDCR would rely instead on programs run by outside volunteers, such as Narcotics Anonymous. To supplement those programs the prison system will reportedly employ prisoners who have been trained as substance abuse counsel-ors. Bengs described this as a “streamlined rehabilitation model,” which certainly sounds better than “gutting treatment services for prisoners.”

The CDCR’s budget reductions include $250 million in cuts to rehabilitative programs, amounting to almost 45% of the prison system’s $560 million budget for such programs. In addition to a 40% decrease in funding for substance abuse treatment, the CDCR is also slashing its budget for residential aftercare services.

In July 2009, the state was funding 8,162 post-release residential treatment beds that served an estimated 17,063 parol-ees annually. The budget reductions will cut those numbers in half, to 4,000 treatment beds serving an estimated 8,308 pa-rolees.

Such cuts could prove counter-productive. According to San Diego County District Attorney spokesperson Steve Walker, “Studies show that inmates are far more likely to succeed [on parole] if they receive treatment in prison with an aftercare component in the community.” Also, as Aaron Edwards, a budget analyst for the nonpartisan Legislative Ana-lyst’s Office, points out, “Community treatment beds are comparatively much cheaper than the $50,000 a year cost of in-carcerating parolees who are returned to prison.”

Indeed, California prisoners are re-incarcerated at an astonishing rate of 60 percent. That high recidivism rate has in turn fueled a 73 percent increase in the state’s prison population over the past two decades. As a result, spending on cor-rections has more than doubled since 2001.

While the CDCR’s budget cuts may be inevitable, they cannot be sustained. If anything, the availability of substance abuse treatment programs needs to be increased, not decreased.
According to a 2007 report by the Little Hoover Com-mission, roughly two-thirds of prisoners would benefit from substance abuse treatment, yet before the recent budget cuts only about two percent of California prisoners were enrolled in such programs. Now, approximately one-half of one per-cent of prisoners will be able to receive substance abuse treatment. The number of substance abuse treatment positions for CDCR prisoners has dropped from 12,000 to 2,400 systemwide.

“I just hope someone up there has a brain and can see what the impact of this will be,” stated Jean Bracy, who over-sees education programs at Folsom State Prison. “You cannot take people and throw them in a cage and expect them to be OK when they get out without rehabilitation.” Systemwide, the CDCR has terminated more than half of its academic and vocational instructors.

In January 2010, CDCR officials began promoting a new program that allows prisoners to earn six weeks off their sentence each year if they complete a rehabilitation course. However, due to the state’s budget cuts, few programs re-main that prisoners can participate in to earn the sentence reduction.

Sources: San Diego CityBeat, Sacramento Bee

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