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State budget: California expected to spend less on prisons in coming years

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Corcoran State Prison is one of the state's 33 facilities. State officials hope to dramatically cut the prison budget in coming years.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is hoping to reduce its share of the state's budget over the next few years. According to Corrections Secretary Matt Cate, CDCR will take its portion of the of the general fund down to 7.5 percent in the 2015-16 fiscal year. As a comparison, CDCR, which is the state's biggest and highest funded agency, got 11 percent of the general fund in 2008-09. 

"That'll allow us to get a handle on overall general fund spending, but also allow us opportunites for funding higher education and other priorities," Cate said. 

The savings will come mostly from:

  • Not having as many inmates: under prison realignment, the counties take responsibility for low-level offenders, which means they won't be the state's responsiblity;
  • Not having as many parolees: the parole load is expected to go way down, also a function of realignment;
  • Closing facilities — specifically, the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco — and not building as many new prisons as previously proposed, meaning the state will not cash in on $4.1 billion in building bonds;
  • And the Division of Juvenile Justice, which will not keep kids as long, along with juvenile parole, which will be completely eliminated.

Other changes include bringing back inmates from out-of-state private prisons, which will start with 600 coming back from Arizona this year. And, Secretary Matt Cate said, a renewed committment to rehabilitation programs behind bars. According to Cate, the goal for the next few years is to get 70 percent of inmates participating in appropriate rehabilitation and educational programs. Another goal, which Cate said could be achieved within months, is getting the system out from federal court oversight. 

Meanwhile, more money will flow to the county level (though not from the general fund) to cover realignment, starting with $5.8 billion this coming year. The state will also doll out half a billion dollars worth of jail construction funds. 

For those counties that've complained in the past about the formula for who gets how much realignment money, it looks like not much will change this year. Realignment funds will continue to be given out based on the number of inmates counties send to prison and the county population, rather than, as some had asked, crime rates. 

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