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Prisons: Yes on 80

In California, prisoners double-up in cells meant for one inmate, but that is only the beginning. They bunk together in classrooms, television rooms and gyms. They are housed with barely enough room to stretch out, in every inch of available space and still there is not enough room. A yes vote on Proposition 80, an $817-million bond issue for prison construction, will relieve the severe and chronic overcrowding.

The state prison system houses more than 74,000 convicts in facilities built to hold less than half that number. Thousands of inmates must double-up and triple-up in areas where there is no risk to staff or other convicts. At the prison in Chino, 212 inmates sleep on wall-to-wall bunk beds, row after row of bunks in a standard-size gymnasium.

The overcrowding is most severe at reception facilities--where new inmates are evaluated before they are sent to serve their time. The reception center at the R .J. Donovan Correction Facilty in San Diego is operating at 340% of intended capacity. Similar intake centers are operating at 300% of capacity at the California Institute for Men at Chino and at 258% of capacity at the California Institute for Women at Frontera.

With the new bond funds, the state Department of Corrections will build a number of new prisons including a facility in northern Los Angeles County. The department will also build two prisons in Kern County and begin construction on a facility in Imperial County. In addition, $50 million of the bond money will be set aside to complete the Northern California Youth Facility in Stockton and $40 million will be spent on county jail facilities.

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With funds from previous prison bond acts, the state will complete work on prisons in the San Joaquin Valley, in Del Norte, near Blythe and near downtown Los Angeles. The construction, authorized by the California Legislature, spreads the unpleasant burden.

The price of relieving prison overcrowding is high. The interest on the bond issue could amount to $650 million over 20 years. The debt service would amount to $3 per Californian per year. But there is no other way to pay.

Proposition 80 is the fourth prison bond in five elections. That is no surprise. The state prison population has surged; it has more than tripled in 10 years because of tougher laws that have mandatory sentences and tougher judges who are ordering longer terms. Although the state has added close to 20,000 new beds since 1984, more beds are urgently needed. We strongly urge a yes vote on Nov. 8.


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