As noted in my op-ed in September, the receivership has made substantial progress in turning around prison medical care and controlling costs, and to finish the job, we need to spin off prison health care from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation so that health care can receive appropriate attention by a separate organization devoted to health care. The corrections department’s mission is not health care; it is confinement.
Spinning off health care is only part of the solution to fixing our correctional system. Health care is not the only function that has been struggling. As of today, the “R” in CDCR exists in name only since rehabilitation programs have been decimated by budget cuts. The parole system has seen repeated failures, and even at its best, is woefully under-resourced. The juvenile program functions under the watchful eye of a state court judge.
The department has become impossible to manage given the huge scope of its operations, the unrelenting overcrowding, and the tension between day-to-day operational improvement and crisis management driven by periodic bad headlines. It is time to reorganize CDCR into smaller organizational pieces to improve focus on discrete functions and to strengthen transparency and accountability for operations.
The good news is that a reorganization that splits CDCR into a few key functional components also gives us an opportunity to start making headway on overcrowding reduction and budget savings. Facing a daunting $25 billion shortfall in the budget, the state has no choice but to right-size our prison system. The only way costs can be reduced significantly in corrections is by significantly reducing the number of inmates, parolees and juveniles subject to state jurisdiction.
The big money is not in waste, fraud or abuse (to be clear, more can be done to reduce waste, fraud and abuse in CDCR, but the magnitude of these savings would hardly make a dent in our general fund deficit). The big money is in program demand, and demand comes from the sheer number of inmates and wards.