Re "Battle Looms Over Prison Spending in State Budget," Jan. 22: Gov. Gray Davis' decision to decrease school and other program budgets while increasing the prison budget once again shows the short-term mentality of our politicians. Building prisons might help crime rates in the immediate short term, but when sacrificed against spending for schools, after-school programs and other programs this only ensures that we will have to build more prisons in the long term.
Is it any surprise that the prison guards union favors such state budgeting? It has helped shape California budgets for the last two decades -- and where has it gotten us? Los Angeles is being called the "murder capital of the U.S." Give me back the days when we were proud of our education and other programs, instead of being the state with the most and best-paid prison guards.
Douglas W. Kieso
"Time Is Money in Budget Crisis" (Jan. 19) indicated that Davis proposes suspending cost-of-living increases of $21 a month, slated for June 2003, for the 1.1 million or so blind, disabled and poor elderly Californians who receive a federal program called Supplemental Security Income. Contrast this "savings" with spending $220 million to improve and expand death row at San Quentin, which is part of Davis' budget.
This significant expenditure has obviously survived the budget-cutting process due to the contributions the prison guards union made to Davis, as well as the Hawaiian parties it threw for key legislators in December. Maybe pushing the SSI recipients further into poverty will result in more violence from the disabled and elderly, and we will need more room on death row to properly house them. On second thought, if Davis would pull a "Gov. Ryan" we could save the $220 million (and more) by eliminating death row and use the money to try to decrease violent crime. Just a crazy idea.
California prisons are filled to overflowing with small-time drug offenders and other nonviolent criminals. These individuals would be better addressed through drug treatment programs, community service and "outside" probationary rehabilitation programs. Three years ago, I sat on a jury where a man received a lengthy sentence for stealing a pair of socks, due to California's barbaric third-strike law.
Incarceration is immensely expensive to the state. Millions, perhaps billions, could be saved by alternatives to incarceration for minor, nonviolent criminals.