'A False Idea of Economy': Costs, Counties, and the Origins of the California Correctional System
The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Vol 664, Issue 1, pp. 26 - 42 (This link is to the draft version) First published date: February-18-2016
31 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2014 Last revised: 27 Jun 2017
Date Written: October 1, 2014
Realignment in California comes at a time when the state’s prison system is expensive and overcrowded; the response has been to re-evaluate and reconfigure the way counties use state prisons. This paper illustrates the way in which similar problems and solutions were present at the state’s founding: issues of expense, overcrowding, and the county-state relationship help explain the origins, size and shape of the California prison system. First, California’s lack of money drove it to try to house prisoners on the cheap, starting when it made county jails the state prison system by fiat, continuing through a decade of privatization and convict lease arrangements in San Quentin, and concluding with a state-administered system partly funded by prison labor. By the time the value of prison labor atrophied and the true costs of a non-remunerative prison population revealed itself, the state was locked into fiscal and administrative responsibility for prisoners. Second, California sought to relieve crowding in its prisons, though it generally did so via back-end mechanisms such as pardons and parole, justifying these moves in part on the basis that they would make rehabilitation possible and ultimately save the state money. Finally, there were concerns about whether fiscal arrangements gave local officials incentives to send prisoners to the state. In some instances, the solutions proposed resemble today’s Realignment.
Keywords: prisons, California, correctional free lunch, realignment, history, economics, counties, criminal justice
JEL Classification: H1, H2, H3, H4, H7, K14, N41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation