Newsom Moves to Close a Prison as the Budget for Corrections Continues to Climb
Governor Newsom released California’s 2020-21 Proposed Budget Summary today, which included many positive steps to address the vast inequality in our state. Nearly 20% of Californians lack the resources to meet their basic needs and another 20% live dangerously close to the poverty line. Yet, as we face devastating fires, record levels of homelessness, untreated mental illness in our communities and other statewide crises, California’s spending on incarceration and corrections has grown to $13.4 billion, up from $12.8 billion last year.
“We applaud Governor Newsom’s historic decision to make closing a California prison within the next five years a key budget priority, but that doesn’t go far enough,” said Brian Kaneda, L.A. Coordinator, Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “We don’t need to allocate $80 million to rebuild failed prisons. Many can be closed down. California can’t afford to continue prison and jail expansion at the expense of vital community needs.”
The implementation of voter mandated criminal justice reforms like Proposition 57 and sentencing reform policies like SB 136 (Weiner-2019) continue to influence decreases in prison populations, yet the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) budget continues to rise. Despite prisons and jails being the least ideal treatment center for any health issue, CDCR continues to sink money into incarceration-based “health” related services, mismanaged infrastructure and out-of-control operations costs. Incarcerated people deserve adequate healthcare, but prisons are not effective wellness or mental health facilities. Included in the budget is $3.8 million allocated for “suicide prevention” strategies that utilize solitary confinement; $21.6 million for video surveilance, violating the privacy of incarcerated peoples’ families; and $5.9 million to rebuild infastructure at California Rehabilitatin Center in Norco, which advocates say should have been closed decades ago.
Diverting bloated carceral spending away from destructive prisons––plagued by neglect, abuse and preventable death––and toward community-based systems of care would address the most urgent needs of those who are ending up in cages: better access to life-preserving services that would help prevent contact with the criminal legal system in the first place.
California is home to the largest jail system in the country: L.A. County. Governor Newsom has expressed urgent concern about California’s deadly jail overcrowding and is pursuing state oversight to local jails, but advocates are demanding increased leadership on this vital issue. “Los Angeles County has taken bold steps to invest resources into Alternatives to Incarceration instead of more jails. But in order to realize the vision LA has set in motion, we will need equally bold action from the Governor and the State Legislature,” said Ivette Alé, Senior Policy Lead, Dignity and Power Now. “The Governor’s budget must prioritize funding community-based alternatives to incarceration in order to break the state’s reliance on incarceration and address the undeniable failures of realignment.”
A recent analysis by McClatchy and ProPublica reported that homicides have increased 46 percent in county jails since the implementation of Public Safety Realignment. In 2011, Realignment and prison oversight were both implemented as one person per week died in California state prisons. While oversight is necessary to hold sheriffs accountable, overcrowding must be addressed through decarceration; pretrial detention reform, preserving the presumption of innocence beyond the single-issue of ending money bail; and implementing the repeal of both the one-year enhancement for prior felony convictions (Weiner-2019) and the three-year enhancement for prior drug convictions (Mitchell-2017).
CURB is calling on Governor Newsom to immediately 1) pursue aggressive parole and sentencing reform efforts; 2) repeal all plans for prison and jail expansion; and 3) in partnership with advocates, create a plan to close at least three prisons by 2021. The people of California, progressive legislators and the CURB coalition believe in common sense criminal justice reforms that will continue to decrease prison and jail populations, allowing us to make real investments in public safety––more affordably and effectively––by building out decentralized health and human services. We demand a fair budget created for a stronger California.
Authors: Brian Kaneda and Amber-Rose Howard