08/14/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

California Keeps Prison Population High But Cuts Treatment Programs

As California's irresponsible leaders have reduced the Golden State to issuing IOU's, one would think they would be looking to the prison budget as a place to save money. The state spends over $10 billion a year on prisons. That's 11% of the general fund! But so far significant reforms of the CDCR have been off the table.

This is puzzling. Even "tough on crime" Texas has made dramatic changes that will reduce their prison population by punishing many offenders in the community, where they have access to treatment programs, and are close to their families and work. These reforms have allowed Texas to scrap plans to build three more prisons, saving hundreds of millions of dollars. Texas is investing one-third of the savings into these community alternative punishments and treatment. The other two-thirds will go to roads, hospitals and schools.

California on the other hand is going in the opposite direction. They have eliminated drug treatment programs, sex offender counseling and virtually every program which prepares inmates to live healthy, productive lives after they are released. These cuts allow the prisons to keep the maximum number of inmates incarcerated, but with no programs to occupy their time productively. Why? It certainly isn't making us safer.

Several other states have shown that they can save hundreds of millions by reserving costly prison beds for truly dangerous criminals, while punishing low-risk offenders in community facilities. These intelligent policies keep the public safe while also saving the taxpayers significant dollars. Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, and South Carolina have also reduced their prison population while reducing their crime rates. It's time for California to follow suit. You can find out more about common sense criminal justice reforms at