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Prisons in L.A. County

July 24, 1987

Gov. Deukmejian is doing California a disservice with his policy priorities and his fear-mongering about crime. Building more prisons seems to be the most important item on the governor's agenda. According to Deukmejian, alternatives to prison, early release, or more lenient sentences are out of the question. "If you commit a serious crime," he says, "you're going to prison." Moreover, he says, the alternative to more prisons "is to turn dangerous criminals loose."

When Deukmejian speaks of "serious" crimes and "dangerous criminals," one automatically thinks of vicious, assaultive thugs, murderers, rapists, big-time drug operators--and no one in his right mind wants such people turned loose. But according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, more than four times as many people are arrested for nonviolent property crimes as for violent crimes. Over twice as many are arrested for property crimes as for drug-abuse violations.

Non-incarcerative punishments, early release, and more lenient sentences for many of these nonviolent property offenders would avoid the necessity of building more prisons. We are deliberately led to believe that all prisoners have committed serious crimes, are dangerous criminals, and our only hope of safety lies in building more prisons. California's prison population has more than tripled since 1977, but this enormous increase has not reduced the crime rate to an acceptable level. Why should continuing to put ever-increasing numbers of people behind bars be any more successful? There is evidence that the rate of repeat crimes is actually increasing as inmates are released from our terribly overcrowded prisons.

The same issue of The Times that outlined Deukmejian's hopes for passage of a fourth, $850-million prison bond issue that will result in $2-billion annual prison operating expenses, also included nearly two-page covering the deplorable plight of the homeless brought about by the state's failure to provide adequately for these unfortunates. That issue also included a lengthy article on the inadequate care of the mentally ill. The following day featured an article on the governor's veto of aid for inner-city schools, which will wipe out dropout prevention, tutorial and remediation programs.

The programs the governor chooses to neglect are a prescription for more crime in the future. Such policy choices foster the growth of an illiterate--and thus unemployable--miserably housed, under-nourished, hopelessly poverty-stricken underclass who are denied adequate medical and mental health care. Many of them will turn to crime. Hard-liners like to point out that most poor people don't commit crimes. True. But poor people who see no hope of ever rising out of poverty do commit crimes.

The governor's policy priorities will not only saddle us, our children, and our grandchildren with an enormous burden of debt for prison construction and operations. They will also encourage a steadily rising crime rate.

It is time to call a halt to these disastrous policies.



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