Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

California Axes Two-Thirds of Prison Programs in Recent Budget Cuts

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All across California, the Golden State’s overcrowded prisons have had their funding slashed for job training, drug rehab, English and math classes, and other programs. Up to 900 instructors have been laid off as a result of this year’s $250 million in cuts to prison programs; state officials say they will try to do more with less, with bigger class sizes, part-time instructors, and inmate teaching aides, but many activities have been eliminated altogether. The Modesto Bee reports:

SIERRA CONSERVATION CENTER — Before living behind bars, 48-year-old George Harrison did carpentry work in and around Modesto. He felt lucky to land a spot in a prison cabinetry course that would give him greater precision skills to compete in the job market upon his expected release in 2013.

But the real world’s dispiriting economy doesn’t stop at the prison’s heavily guarded front gate.

Staggering under historic budget problems, state leaders are slashing $1.2 billion in yearly prison spending, including two-thirds of inmate education, vocation and substance abuse programs, the very things most likely to turn ex-cons away from crime when they get out.

Harrison’s mill and cabinet class, the first vocational program established when the prison was built near Jamestown in 1965, ended a few weeks ago, before he could obtain coveted cabinetry certification. Inmates no longer will make award-winning furniture for state offices.

“It’s a shame this one’s going down,” said Lt. Kevin Wise, Sierra spokesman.

Artist Tom Skelly’s 30-year-old program at the California Institution for Men in Chino is another casualty of the budget cuts:

Associate warden Ken Drysol has been an avid supporter of Skelly and Arts In Corrections. Many of the artists have supplied CIM’s offices with paintings and its walls with murals.

“We understand there has to be cuts, but it’s a shame to see a program like this go,” Drysol said. “Participating in this program is a reward and promotes good behavior.”

Finally, here’s a firsthand account from KPBS producer Pat Finn on growing idleness at the Donovan State Prison in Otay Mesa, Calif.:

Because there is so much idle time-passing going on, we ask if prisoners at Donovan work. Yes they do. Jobs start at $.50 per hour; half goes to a restitution fund and half goes to the inmate, and it’s possible for an inmate to earn up to $100 a day. And what is there to do? Not so much as a few years ago, apparently.

For many years Donovan inmates produced thousands of eyeglasses for Medi-cal patients in the optical shop. But this year, California cut glasses out of its Medi-cal budget — perhaps to prevent people from reading about budget cuts. Also kaput are the art program and the carpentry workshop. All substance abuse and educational programs are gone. The program for prisoners about to re-enter society – San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’s initiative which reduced the recidivism rate among participants from Donovan from 70% to under 20% — was cut dramatically last year to save money.

What’s left for the prisoners to do? Donovan’s bakery is still turning out bread for several California prisons, and the sweet aroma of baking adds a surreal touch to an already foreign scene. Patti tells us prisoners also make tennis shoes – blue ones — for themselves, and they can work in the laundry, offices and grounds.

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  1. […] a comment » As readers know, in its most recent round of budget cuts, California axed two-thirds of its prison rehabilitation programs, a move some politicians and commentators have criticized. […]

  2. […] prison education and rehabilitation programs around the country have been subject to crippling budget cuts in recent months, and in general, most inmates have precious few […]


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