Media Alert: $4.1 billion Cut from Prison and Jail Expansion

For Immediate Release—June 28, 2012

California residents set sights on 2012-2013 budget

Press Contact:

Isaac Ontiveros

Californians United for a Responsible Budget

Ph. 510 444 0484

Sacramento – California’s recently passed 2012-2013 budget cancelled billions in prison and jail construction funding authorized by the notorious Assembly Bill 900. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation budget, released on Thursday, eliminates $4.1 billion in wasteful Lease Revenue Bonds, ensuring that Californians do not accumulate $4.7 billion more in debt for the construction of more prison and jail cells. Despite this victory, advocates cautioned that California’s budget still approved $810 million in separate bonds to cover more prison construction, and leaves approximately $2 billion of AB 900 funds available to expand California’s bloated prison system.

Californians United For A Responsible Budget (CURB), an alliance of several dozen organizations battling the prison crisis across the state, has been putting up an intense fight to cancel AB900, calling for sentencing reform, alternatives to imprisonment, and reinvestment in education and health and human services as cheaper, healthier alternatives for the state.  “Cancelling over half of AB 900 is a huge victory,” said Emily Harris, Statewide Coordinator of Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “The prison budget’s bite out of California’s General Fund has held the state budget hostage for years. In times of financial crisis decision makers should be protecting education, jobs, social programs and services, not approving more money for prisons and jails.”                                                                                         

The 2012 reduction reflects years of community activism and the changing reality of California’s prison population. AB 900, passed without voter approval in 2007, authorized a total of $7.4 billion in Lease Revenue Bonds, plus billions more in interest, for prison and jail construction. Appalled at the meteoric growth of one of the world’s largest prison systems, rife with human rights abuses, Californians have long protested the State’s policies of prison expansion. Increased syphoning of funds away from California’s dwindling General Fund and harmful cuts to basic services in recent years have exacerbated the crisis. With the passage of the California’s new realignment program in 2011, the number of people locked up in state prisons has been steadily declining.

“Cutting money spent on prison and jail construction is the only logical thing to do,” said Kim McGill of Los Angeles-based Youth Justice Coalition. “For years we have said that budget cuts need to start with this obscene prison system. While the budget may be taking small steps in the right direction, it has also axed vital services that our communities need. We want all of AB 900 cancelled, we want an end to California’s addiction to imprisonment, and we want resources put back into our communities.”

Community leaders are adamant that there still much work to be done to align California’s budget with the priorities of residents. The 2012-2013 state budget will likely include $810 million for new beds at existing prisons and an additional $500 million for adult jails. It also authorizes the state to move forward with multi-million dollar prison expansion plans, including in the recently bankrupt city of Stockton. The CDCR also announced plans to give $1.9 billion to local law enforcement as part of the state’s realignment program.

“Our communities and counties need our social services and education restored, but instead the CDCR is funding more jail construction. We are giving nearly $2 billion to local police even as we are eliminating health care coverage for children. If the state wants to support counties in realignment, give them money to work with community-based organizations that actually help people rather than just lock them up,” said Deb Reyes of California Prison Moratorium Project.

CURB supports cuts to AB 900 funding reflected in the Budget, as well as cost-saving reforms, such as expanding the Alternative Custody program, implementing medical parole, and reclassifying thousands of prisoners to house them in less costly facilities. “These are the types of policies California needs to pass. They save us money and return people to their loved ones,” says Reyes. “To put a single dollar towards jail expansion at a time when education, welfare and healthcare are all on the chopping block is shameful.”

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