Opinion: Dan Walters: California prisons avoid the budget ax

By Dan Walters

Sacramento Bee

Posted: 02/08/2011 11:08:39 AM PST
Updated: 02/08/2011 07:23:35 PM PST


A recent poll of California voters by the Public Policy Institute of California confirmed anew that prisons are the least popular way to spend tax money as Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators struggle with a chronic budget deficit.

When the institute asked voters which major areas should be hit with cuts, just 24 percent named K-12 education, 35 percent said higher education, 37 percent suggested health and welfare programs, and 70 percent singled out prisons. The results were similar when voters were asked what they were willing to underwrite with higher taxes.

Interestingly, the disdain for prison spending was virtually identical among all subcategories of voters — Democrats and Republicans, liberal San Franciscans and conservative Central Valley residents, rich, poor and middle class.

The sentiments are not new. The institute and other polling organizations have reported similar findings for years. Yet prison spending has been one of the fastest growing pieces of the budget, is now more than 10 percent and is one of the few Brown largely exempted from cuts.

Prisons occupy a unique, contradictory place in societal priorities and, therefore, in politics. On one hand, we want those who commit crimes locked up so they can’t prey upon us. On the other hand, we view prison spending as wasteful.

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