Today’s Budget Revise is Yet Another Missed Opportunity to Invest in Communities

Today’s Budget Revise is Yet Another Missed Opportunity to Invest in Communities

Today, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger released a revision of the budget plan he offered in January. And the ax, once again, will come down heaviest on our social safety net; however, it doesn’t have too be that way. The Governor and Legislature know that they face a shortfall of at least $20 billion – and yet have remained unwilling to look at a juvenile justice system that has failed us and needs major overhauling. The Ella Baker Center advocates that we close the state youth prisons, giving more money to county probation to provide secure services and still save the state close $200 million a year that could be reinvested in California schools.

Consider the following:

California spends over $436 million annually on the Division of Juvenile Justice (“DJJ”) to lock-up 1400 youth. DJJ is a costly system with a 72% failure rate-meaning 72 percent of youth there will be rearrested shortly after release.

California is on track to spend over $300,000 per youth per year for lock up in the failed DJJ system. In comparison, a kid in a California public elementary or high school only merits a $8500 per year investment.

California spends more than $8.2 billion dollars locking up 150,000 adults, yet it only spends $5.5 billion to educate more than 650,000 student in California’s UC system and Cal State schools.

The latest round of state budget cuts will be heartbreaking after years of health and education cuts, budget gimmicks and expensive failed lock-em-up politicking. Things we value as a society-care for the elderly and the disabled, health care for sick kids, parks, and hometown government – will be gutted, while big prisons remains a sacred cow to fear-mongering politicians and spinmeisters.

The Governor proposes more cuts to our local schools, but wants to maintain decrepit youth prisons hidden in the countryside. At local schools, he would spend $8500 per kid per year, but he wants to spend 30 times that amount per young person in prisons that provide no education or rehabilitation What the Ella Baker Center and our allies have long been advising is the closing of the DJJ prisons– and the reallocation of a third of that budget to public schools, a third to counties for youth rehabilitation, and a third back to the crippled budget.

Over the last several months, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state Legislature could have found time to work out a plan that set priorities, cut back on bureaucracy and limited the damage to the most critical public programs. But they chose instead to hide their eyes and hope that revenues would turn around, sparing themselves the hard choices that are required from strong leaders.

When this revise comes out, everyone will feel this hit – from the struggling college students to families unable to afford insurance for their kids. Every spending cut will be a testimony to a failure of courageous leadership and further cement that the roots of California’s troubles are because of our ridiculous spending on prisons instead of people.