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California Budget Woes Squeeze Overcrowded Prisons

As California continues to struggle over budget gaps, Spencer Michels measures the likely effects of funding cuts on the state's overcrowded prisons.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Next tonight, California's crowded prisons and shrinking budget. The state legislature meets tomorrow to identify more than $1 billion of cuts in the prison budget. NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels reports.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    An 11-hour riot at this state prison in Chino recently cast a harsh spotlight on California's overcrowded prisons: 250 inmates were injured; 6 dormitories were badly damaged by fire; and 1,000 men had to be relocated.

    MATTHEW CATE, secretary, California Corrections: It looked like helter-skelter, you know?

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    I guess. Well, was it an organized thing or did it just sort of erupt?

  • MATTHEW CATE:

    No, it had been planned.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    Matthew Cate, Governor Schwarzenegger's secretary of the state department of corrections and rehabilitation, flew to the prison Sunday morning.

  • MATTHEW CATE:

    We're at 190 percent of capacity, and it's difficult to manage a system that's that chockfull of inmates.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    And is that what prompted the riot, do you think?

  • MATTHEW CATE:

    I think the riot was prompted probably by the same issues that often prompt these things: gangs and race issues and so forth. But our ability to manage it, our ability to retake the institution, our ability to stop those from occurring in the first place, all those things are easier if you're not overcrowded to the level that we are.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    At San Quentin and elsewhere, gymnasiums have been turned into sleeping quarters, because there aren't enough cells to house the state's huge prison population of 150,000 inmates in 33 institutions.

    Meanwhile, the $10 billion state prison budget is about to be slashed by more than 10 percent, victim of the state's budget shortfall. State prison officials say education and vocational training, like this prison printing shop, are on the chopping block.

  • MATTHEW CATE:

    We're cutting hundreds of positions from headquarters to try to run a leaner prison system. Secondly, and unfortunately, we're going to cut about half of our rehabilitative programs.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    Those programs already are few, and many inmates don't get a chance or don't want to take part in them.

  • DALLAS BROWN, inmate:

    You got guys that are doing two or three years that don't get a chance to go to these vocational programs, because all these guys doing life are taking these all up.

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