Illustration by Matt Boblet

It’s no real secret that the California prison system is broken. The issues that our system faces come from two major areas: overcrowding and the lack of viable rehabilitation programs.

We’ve all heard about the overcrowding of prisons — inmates bunking and sleeping wherever they can, from the gym to the cafeteria. Space is a hot commodity within the facilities. Yet most of this stems from one other fact: recidivism, or returning to prison after release. California’s recidivism rate as of last March was a staggering 66 percent, according to the New York Times. It has also been put as high as 70 percent.

That’s two out of three inmates returning to incarceration within a usually small timeframe of one to two years. What that tells is that the system is currently not working as a means of rehabilitation or deterrent to crime.

But it has been a difficult process to get any new legislation passed. The most recent changes have come in underwhelming forms: the early releases of low-level offenders with no parole supervision, a reduction of sentences due to participation in rehab programs, and lastly, the University of California handling inmate healthcare.

Yet these “solutions” don’t really solve anything. There has been criticism and conflict about the early release of inmates, and the incentivizing of rehabilitation takes the focus away from wanting to become a better person and instead prioritizes the act of getting released early.

The longer California can keep people out of prison, the more money it will end up saving in the long run.

What the California prison system needs is a commitment to rehabilitation of inmates, putting the focus upon getting them to work on their faults, their trials, tribulations and overall lives — and not on simply getting out of jail.

This is not an easy feat, especially considering that San Quentin is the only prison to offer any serious rehabilitation programs, such as being able to attain an associate’s degree. It also doesn’t help that a year ago $250 million was cut from the Department of Rehabilitations and Corrections, putting many of those rehab programs in jeopardy.

We need to evaluate what we want the prison system to do. Do we want it to just house an ever-increasing number of incoming prisoners who will fall into the pitfalls and continuous cycling in and out of the prison system? Or do we want prison to serve as a place for prisoners to work on their problems and move towards returning to society?

We need to take a good, hard look in the mirror and realize that what’s happening now is costing the state excessive amounts of cash that it doesn’t have, and it is not helping a majority of inmates find a way out of crime.

There is no money in California — not for higher education, and not for the prison system. Rehabilitation programs just faced a $250 million cut.

We need to use what the system has right now and create major reform from within, instead of complaining about the status quo.