State prison-education programs lose $250M

SACRAMENTO Protesters say the state plan to lay off nearly 900 teachers and vocational instructors from California prisons in January virtually guts rehabilitation programs aimed at preventing inmates from returning to a life of crime.

Cindie Fonesca got one of those pink slips after teaching graphic arts for 16 years and says without rehabilitation, inmates will be more dangerous when they get out.

"They're going to learn from their 'cellies'. That's what they're going to do," said Cindie Fonesca, vocational instructor at Norco State Prison. "How to be better criminals."

Studies show tackling low literacy rates and substance abuse among inmates saves states money in the long run.

But Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says with revenues down, leaders are forced to cut billions from the state budget.

"You cannot pay out the same amount to prisons. We cannot pay out the same amount to education, to in-home support services, to any of those things. Everyone has to cut back," said Schwarzenegger.

A hearing on the cuts Tuesday revealed programs that help female inmates will be hit the hardest, in part, because women are less likely to harm someone, even without rehab.

The Washington State Institute for Public Policy warned lawmakers recently, if the cuts go through, California will educate and rehabilitate the lowest percentage of inmates in the country, and fail to reduce crime.

Some who joined the rally Tuesday are ex-convicts who can attest to the successes of a high-school diploma and vocational classes in helping turn their lives around.

"It's a much better life. I wouldn't change what I have today. And I owe it all to the teachers that started me out at Valley State Prison for Women," said former inmate Pearl Contreras.

The remaining programs in state prisons will likely see one teacher with up to 200 inmates per class.

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