The Legislature through the years has been quick to pass laws that mandate minimum lengths of stay in prison for certain offenses, while rejecting most efforts to try to do things differently. We thought the tide might be turning somewhat in 2012 with passage of a reform law that sought front-end investment in exchange for back-end savings, but the follow-through has been uninspired.
The price tag associated with that bill was $3.7 million in the first year, $3.5 million this year. By comparison, McKeon would like to see lawmakers spend $600,000 annually to go toward education programs in prisons, including the TCC program (at TCC, that amount would allow for about 160 students per year to take part, double the current number). Second Chance initially was funded with federal dollars that flowed through the Department of Corrections. Those federal training/education funds were cut a few years ago. Current funding flows from private sources.
The DOC was given a standstill budget for this fiscal year, partly due to concerns by the governor and some lawmakers over the way the agency used and reported three revolving funds. In what is shaping up as a tight budget for the state in the next fiscal year, the prospect of getting additional funds directed to the DOC may be a long shot.
Compared with a $6 billion budget, the amount McKeon seeks is insignificant. The program is not. It merits support.