Since 1980, the prison population has skyrocketed 436 percent, while spending on higher education has decreased by 13 percent adjusted for inflation, according to the report by California Common Sense. The Huffington Post explains:
Fifty-five percent of the growth of corrections spending is the result of the state simply putting more people in jail. Over the past three decades, the number of inmates in California facilities has increased eight times faster than size of the overall population.
The report notes that, while the average salaries for employees of the state's world-renowned higher education system have stagnated or even dropped with regard to inflation, prison guards have seen sustained salary increases. Correctional officers in California typically make somewhere between 50 and 90 percent more than comparable jobs in the rest of the country.
The problem of California's overflowing prisons is nothing new. Following years of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled more than a year ago that the state must relieve prison overcrowding, holding that incarceration in the system was tantamount to "cruel and unusual punishment." While the state made rapid progress during the first few months, it is now struggling to meet its deadlines for population reduction, prompting court intervention.
Last month, a panel of judges ordered the state to come up with a plan for identifying prisoners who might be candidates for early release. But officials said reducing the prison population was not their goal. Rather, they planned to improve medical care and living conditions, in part by opening a new prison hospital – an important step, but one that will likely only further increase prison costs without a concomitant decrease in the number of prisoners.