Saving California’s universities

There’s enough money in the prison budget to get it done. The trick is having fewer prisoners.

It’s true that California needs more tax revenue to pay for higher education, among the state’s many other needs. And yes, magical thinking by politicians gets old fast. But the Washington Monthly’s Daniel Luzer is wrong to say that we can’t fix the higher-ed problem out of savings on incarceration. We can, and should

As Luzer points out, we spend a ton of money on prisons partly because the guards are generously paid. But California also has a ton of prisoners: about five times as many, per capita, as the state had 35 years ago, when crime was higher than it is today. (Alas, that’s in line with national trends.)

Now that we understand how to punish people and control their behavior without paying their room-and-board bills, by enforcing the conditions of community corrections (probation and parole) with swift and certain, rather than severe, penalties for violations, California doesn’t need to have 170,000 state prison inmates. We could cut that number in half, while also reducing crime, by moving resources out of the prison system and into the community-corrections system.

Cutting the prison population in half would save about $2.5 billion per year. Half a billion of that would be ample to create a 21st-Century probation and parole system, with GPS monitoring in addition to random drug testing. Put another half a billion into police, courts, prosecution, and public defense, and you’ve still got $1.5 billion per year to split between the Cal State system and the UC system. That would undo the damage done during the current crisis, and then some. That would mean that UCLA could get back to the project of becoming one of the greatest universities in the world, rather than settling for being one of the best public universities in the country.

Whether Governor Brown could get it done is a different question. But California used to spend more money on college than it did on prison, and there’s no good reason not to restore that sensible priority ordering.

Sunlight-is-the-best-disinfectant Dep’t

Letting ICE monitor its own detention facilities turned out to be a bad idea. Some heads should roll.

Since 2003, at least 103 detainees have died in facilities run by, or on contract to, ICE. The New York Times and the ACLU have now used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain some of the department’s internal records, which show – unsurprisingly – much more interest in covering up wrongdoing than in preventing needless deaths.  According to the Times report, officials deliberately lied to reporters to help with the cover-up. If Nina Dozoretz really can’t recall participating in discussions during 2007 about a man whose skull was fractured in detention and who subsequently died, perhaps she needs some rest, and ICE needs someone else to fix the detainee health-care problem.  The heads of the lying spokegeeks should roll, too.  In any case, it’s clear that ICE can’t be trusted on this, and needs a strong external monitor.

Joe Arpaio is a wuss

Want law enforcement that’s really tough on Mexicans?  Try Mexico’s. Only seven years until accused there are presumed innocent, and meanwhile the cops aren’t afraid to do what’s needed to get the job done. Like lie under oath.

Roberto and Layda are students in my shop (Roberto is my PhD advisee), and I am over-the-top proud of them. They’re not afraid to do what’s needed either, they shoot cameras and handcuff criminal officials to the facts, and before we’ve even licensed them to be in the social change business, they’re getting their hands dirty making justice and speaking truth to some very comfortable sleazy power.  The Mexican criminal justice system is just figuring out what it’s up against, because their film is winning prizes and getting reviews, including the first prize at the Morelia festival. It’s out of control, and the courts will never be the same in Mexico.

It’s well known in academic circles that when one of your students does something really smashing, and you’re the only one of his profs present, you’re allowed to say “yup, taught him everything he knows!” I am dying to say that now, but the fact is, they’re teaching us.  Besides basking in this reflected glory, I especially like their enterprise because it extends a link between the arts and policy that goes back at least to Goya, maybe Cervantes, who impaled the toxic nonsense of chivalry with a quill pen.  Rivera’s murals were bigger than a movie screen, but Hernandez and Negrete are also painting on a million monitors and television sets.  And their outrage has the power of analysis and the hard thinking my colleagues and I are helping them learn.

This is another day I have no trouble cashing my paycheck.

Sex in prison

The Amir case: should prisoners have the right to sex?

In a generally fine post on Yigal Amir, the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin, MJ Rosenberg writes:

Yigal Amir [….] has been treated with kid gloves by the Israeli judicial and prison system, which not only allowed him to marry while in jail but also allowed him to father a child. This week the assassin’s son was circumcised in prison so that the proud father could attend.

The comments thread brings out the detail that the birth was induced so that the brit could take place on the anniversary of the murder. The Israeli left is throwing up (see here and here).

Contrary to Rosenberg, it’s not an outlandish idea or a country-club privilege to grant cons opportunities for sex with their outside partners.

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