Listening to Governor Schwarzenegger on the California Report this morning (listen to KQED), it was impossible not to hear the frustration. The money to fix California's budget woes and reset our priorities is there, but only if, like Dillinger, we go where the money is, prisons. The scale of California's massive and unconvincing correctional system is such that there is no practical place to go to find the resources to fund California's groaning infrastructure priorities.
But while the Governor has always appreciated the need to reform our prison and parole system, he has yet to step before the people and make the case that the only meaningful reform must include changing who goes to prison and for how long. Currently that decision is made primarily by county prosecutors who have every incentive to over use prison and no responsibility for balancing the overall budget.
We can talk about how to accomplish that (whether by reduced upfront sentences, or more discretion to release prisoners early at the other end), but the only honest public conversation about getting California out of her crisis of mass imprisonment begins with that premise. I still believe that Arnold Schwarzenegger is the one politician in this state who could effectively begin that conversation.
The hour is late. Can you still lead?