December 2013 Newsletter
The best thing about the holidays is sharing time with your family and friends. Here are a few ideas:
- Christmas in the Park - From the Friday following Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, San Jose's Plaza de César Chávez is transformed into a forest of Christmas trees decorated by schools and civic organizations. In fact, my Senate District 15 office has sponsored a tree.
- Fantasy of Lights - The Fantasy of Lights returns to Vasona Park. The Santa Clara County Park Department of Parks, which sponsors the eye-popping light show with the Los Gatos-Saratoga Community Education and Recreation, describes the show as "the premier holiday lights spectacular in Northern California."
PRISONS IMPACT ON CALIFORNIA
The Legislature has been out of session but I have been busy visiting California's prisons, one of the biggest cost drivers of the state budget, to observe, listen, and learn how we can reduce the appallingly high numbers of paroled inmates who return to prison.
This month, I have visited Salinas Valley State Prison and Atascadero State Hospital, a maximum security facility for inmates who are undergoing psychiatric evaluation and treatment. I have visited over half of the state's 33 prisons, more than any other legislator.
We spend will spend nearly $10 billion on a prison system that sees about 70 percent of its parolees return within three years. California has spent hundreds of millions to comply with a federal court order to improve its dismal health services for prisoners and overcrowding. The Governor is now challenging the court's order to release 8,000 prisoners to reach a mandated limit of 100,000 prisoners.
Prison spending eats away at our budget, siphoning money from education. Today, we spend about $60,000 a year per inmate or about 82 percent more than we did in 1994-95, adjusted for inflation. Compare it with K-12 spending which only rose 17.9 percent during that same period - from $6,971 to $8,219. As the California Budget Project succinctly points out, the state has increased prisoner spending "nearly five times faster than spending per K-12 student over the past two decades."
When we look closely at our prison population we see that 30 percent of the inmates are mentally ill. When they leave prison, there is a good chance that their mental illness has not been effectively treated or not treated at all, contributing to their homelessness. Is there any question why our recidivism rate is so high? Can we afford to continue business as usual - releasing untreated mentally ill convicts without treatment support into society?
Whether we like it or not, California has no choice but to improve its mental health services for parolees. And, it is our best and most fiscally prudent choice - treatment costs about 28 percent of what it costs for taxpayers to pay for an inmate's incarceration for one year. By getting more parolees eligible for Medi-Cal, we can significantly cut the cost of treatment to California through federal reimbursements.
The system does punish the people who break the law but it must also offer redemption and rehabilitation if we are to put a stop to our prisons' revolving door.
MEASURE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT
The California Air Resources Board has released a mobile application that aims to inspire people and small businesses to reduce their carbon footprints.
The free CoolCalifornia app offers an easy-to-use tool for small businesses and households to calculate their carbon footprint and make pledges to reduce their carbon footprint by, for example, riding a bike more often or turning off lights.
Using the calculator is simple. Users respond to a number of questions, such as: How many miles per gallon does your car get? How much do you spend per month on electricity and gas? How much trash do you throw away instead of recycling?
The result is converted into the amount of carbon pollution generated in one year by those inputs. The app features green-living tips and allows users to share personal stories on social media about how they're reducing their climate impact.