A Silver Lining to the Economic Crisis: Less Money for Prisons
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"We enacted modest reforms to the Rockefeller drug laws in 2004. Yet these reforms still did not go far enough to expand the availability of drug-treatment programs, allow judges to order low-level offenders into mandatory treatment and assure that prisons are used for the most serious drug offenders," Paterson said.
Anthony Papa, an activist who served 12 years in prison under the Rockefeller drug laws before being granted clemency, believes Paterson is sincere in his efforts to overhaul the laws.
"He went to great lengths in showing he was sincere by getting arrested with us in 2002 at a protest … in front of then-Gov. George Pataki office in Midtown. I am hoping he remembers the fire that roared in his heart in the past and utilizes it to procure the much-needed reforms of a broken criminal-justice system." What's more, "I think the stars have aligned together to help him make the necessary changes if he takes the lead and follows his instinct." Indeed, with Democrats now controlling both legislative houses in the state, Paterson's initiative has a far greater chance of succeeding.
The Bad News
In both California and New York, the dramatic budget reductions cut both ways, and the potential for meaningful prison reform comes wrapped with measures that are devastating for other areas. Schools and hospitals will bear the brunt of Paterson's plan, which calls for $9 billion in spending cuts.
In California, education will suffer similarly deep cuts in funding. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "around the state, school administrators have begun looking at how many employees they can lay off next year and which programs they can cancel."
"This is the worst it's ever been in the state of California," one school superintendent said.
While the economic crisis alone does not necessarily mean a spike in crime rates, the social underpinnings of crime have everything to do with factors like education. The progress on prison reform spurred by the crisis is an ironic counterpoint to the harsh austerity measures we face across the country. It is too soon to tell what the implications will be of our economic meltdown, but prison reform is long overdue.