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Crowding in State's Prisons

June 15, 2002

"Wrong Time for a New Prison" (editorial, June 7) implies that the state is spending $595 million from the state budget to build Delano II at a time when the state is facing a fiscal crisis. The actual cost of construction for Delano II is $335 million, which would come not from the general fund but from lease revenue bonds. Most of that impact would not be seen in the state budget for four to five years.

Most California prisons are operating at 180% to 195% of capacity. Thousands of inmates are doubled up in cells built for one person. Gymnasiums and classrooms have been converted to dormitories. Such overcrowding breeds inmate violence, the potential for the spread of disease and fewer opportunities to participate in educational and rehabilitative programs. It is true that the number of minimum-security inmates is declining. There is, however, an acute shortage of maximum-security cells. The new Delano II facility would be a maximum-security prison.

Your editorial relied on decade-old national data to conclude that the crime rate is rising for people who have been released from prison. Recent California data tell a different story. In California in 1999, 72% of the inmates were returning to prison within two years of their release. Today, the rate is 54% and falling, in response to better parole supervision, expanded job placement and other programs for parolees. That figure is still too high, yet it represents significant progress.

Stephen Green

Assistant Secretary

Youth and Adult

Correctional Agency

Sacramento

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Re "The Graying of the Prisons," June 9: I am sick to near death of cowardly politicians like Gov. Gray Davis and Assemblyman Rod Pacheco (R-Riverside), who constantly cave in to the "get tough on crime" mob mentality gripping this state, and who continually stand in the way of every decent, sensible and cost-effective alternative to the overreliance on incarceration.

That these politicians and their ilk feel compelled to dwell on the inhumanity of these feeble and aging inmates, no doubt to justify their own inhumanity toward them, speaks volumes about the malicious and vindictive nature of our current system of justice.

What these elected officials ought to be aware of is that their constituents include, in growing numbers, the families and loved ones of prisoners, and we will not be silent for much longer.

Sandra Herwerth

Los Angeles

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