This Sunday, Ted Koppel presents Breaking Point, a documentary on California’s prison overcrowding problem. It will air on the Discovery Channel at 9pm. From the highlights:
What does the California prison system have in common with Harvard University? It costs precisely as much to house, feed and guard one prisoner for one year in a California state prison as tuition, meals and housing cost for a student enrolled for one academic year at Harvard. As far as California taxpayers are concerned, it gets even worse. Their prison system is so overcrowded that it’s reached a breaking point. Either the state finds a long-term solution or the federal courts have warned they’ll begin ordering the release of inmates, just to ease the crush.
In this two-hour broadcast, Ted Koppel examines how California got to this point and presents an inside view of the crisis through in-depth interviews with inmates, guards and prison officials at California State Prison Solano in Vacaville.
Designed to accommodate no more than 100,000 inmates, California’s prisons now hold 173,000, each at an annual cost of $43,000. How did things get so out of control? Mandatory sentencing is a big part of the answer. When California voters threw their support behind a get-tough-on-crime bill that came to be known as “Three Strikes and You’re Out,” the state prison system filled up and is now overflowing.
Prison overcrowding presents several problems aside from safety and security of staff and inmates. More often than not, overcrowding leads to inmates being forced to sleep in gyms, halls, classrooms and day-rooms. This occupies space reserved for rehabilitative programs. I’m not sure these programs continue or that inmates have recreation areas where they can blow off steam or learn a trade or get an education. It truly is counterproductive.
Hopefully the legislators on Connecticut’s Judiciary Committee will watch this 2-hour program on Sunday.