SACRAMENTO — Faced with exploding growth of the state prison system, voters in Tuesday's election are being asked to approve billions of dollars to build more prisons and jails.
Four measures will appear on the ballot, each designed to provide a new infusion of money into the state's expanding, but still badly overcrowded, jail and prison system.
The four measures, as they will appear on the ballot, are:
Proposition 129, a law enforcement initiative drafted by Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp in conjunction with his unsuccessful campaign for governor. It would authorize the state to take on an additional $740 million in debt to build prisons and jails. Of that amount, $306 million would be for state prisons and $434 million would be for local and regional facilities for prisoners who otherwise would be held in county jails.
Proposition 133, a law enforcement measure sponsored by Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy. It would raise the sales tax half a cent on the dollar and give state and local prison system administrators 10% of the new money, or about $800 million, for construction and operating costs of prisons and jails and to support drug treatment programs among inmates and parolees.
Proposition 144, which would authorize $450 million in bonds to finance the latest installment on the prison expansion program sponsored by Gov. George Deukmejian and the Legislature.
Proposition 147, a $225-million bond measure to build or revamp county jails and juvenile facilities.
Counting a prison bond measure approved in the June primary and $900 million in revenue bonds approved by the Legislature that do not require voter approval, the total cost of the prison expansion measures in 1990 could add up to about $4.3 billion.
The 1990 funding drive for prisons and jails comes in the wake of a major expansion during the 1980s that already has led to authorization of $4 billion for new prisons, an annual budget approaching $3 billion for running the system and a quadrupling of the number of men and women in state prisons.
Led by chairmen of the Legislature's two budget committees, opponents of the bond measures argue that the money for the state's $2-billion prison system, not counting county jails, is coming out of budgets for health and welfare programs. Aside from the budget implications, opponents also say the Deukmejian Administration policy of putting more and more criminals behind bars has not made California a safer place or produced a drop in the crime rate. They are pushing for alternatives, such as community-based programs such as electronic surveillance, intensified probation programs, work furloughs and alcohol and drug treatment counseling for substance abusers.
"It should be pretty obvious to everyone that throwing these people into prison is not solving our crime problem. It keeps getting worse," said Sen. Alfred E. Alquist (D-San Jose), chairman of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee who signed the ballot argument against Proposition 147, the prison bond measure, with Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara), chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
Said Vasconcellos: "I've watched the corrections budget in recent years eat up everything else in the budget. It is time to call a halt to it."
Supporters of the prison expansion program, led by Deukmejian, say steel and concrete may not be the only way to deal with the crime problem, but nothing else is working.
"While everybody tells us we've got to find alternatives to putting people in prison, all those people who tell us we've got to find alternatives don't have any," said Sacramento County Sheriff Glen Craig, who signed the ballot argument for Proposition 147, the county jail measure.
Craig Brown, undersecretary for the state Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, said state prisons house about 97,000 inmates in a system designed for about 52,000. Brown said that by 1995, projections indicate that the prison system will swell to 150,000 inmates. By then, even if voters approve all the bond measures and the governor's full program goes forward, there will only be about 30,000 more beds, meaning prisons will be as crowded as they are now.
Brown said the Administration has considered alternative programs, budgeting $30 million for community corrections programs. But he said that California has a bigger crime problem than other states.
Opponents argue that prison inmate populations have swelled because of a dramatic increase in the number of parole violators returned to prison. A Blue Ribbon Commission on Inmate Population Management, a majority of whose members were appointed by Deukmejian, found that the number of parole violators sent back to prison jumped from 1,011 in 1978 to 34,014 in 1988.
With each inmate costing $20,000 a year to keep in prison, the commission recommended that the Legislature consider less costly community-based programs.
Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi, director of the San Francisco-based National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, said the state needs more choices for dealing with criminals, who are sent to prison or allowed onto the streets again on probation.
"The way the system works now, it's like going to the doctor for a headache and being given the choice of taking an aspirin or going in for a frontal lobotomy," Schiraldi said.