Californians Rally Against Spending Half a Billion On Prisons
California governor Jerry Brown attempts to deal with the state’s unconstitutional overcrowding problem by building more prisons.
On Friday, Californians across the state will gather in key regions to rally and condemn California Governor Jerry Brown’s newly released 2014-15 budget proposal, which will increase the amount the state spends on prisons. Brown’s proposal would raise the Corrections Department budget from $9.2 billion to $9.8 billion, nearly 10 percent of the entire state budget, and allocate $500 million to building more county jails.
Part of Brown’s motivation to expand prisons throughout the state is to meet a 2009 order to lower the inmate population to 137.5 percent of the prisons’ designed capacities to reduce overcrowding. Brown has failed to meet the 2013 deadline for this prisoner reduction and has asked the court for a two-year extension. But instead of focusing on reducing the state’s number of prisoners, Brown has plans to build nearly 6,000 new prison beds. Diana Zuñiga, statewide field organizer of Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), said that there are also talks of building three new prison facilities that would cost $810 million to construct, which would then be double due to interest payments as well as cost $100,000 each year to upkeep.
“The governor is trying to answer the court order by funneling more money into prison expansion instead of really focusing on all of the prison population reduction strategies that can be implemented right now,” Zuñiga said.
And while Brown did propose some of these strategies, he didn’t go far enough.
“These are great ways he’s moving forward, but he’s doing it in a very minimal way that isn’t going to substantially reduce the prison population as much as it should,” Zuñiga said.
For example, while Brown suggested expanding elderly prison parole for those 60 years and older. But if it were expanded to those 50 years and older, the prison population could be reduced by thousands. Even more significant is the expansion of good time credit, which reduces the time served for prisoners participating in positive programming. While Brown suggested implementing it for non-violent second strikers, Zuñiga said that a larger expansion could reduce the state’s prison population by 21,000.
Zuñiga said there are many more ways to reduce the prison population. But, she said, the state continues to build upon the prison-industrial project it created. She believes it will ultimately lead to overcrowding in the state’s county jails as well.
We see a jail boom that’s happening now, and it’s just really alarming that all of these construction proposals … are going to happen within two to three years and is not answering the problem they are justifying construction for which is overcrowding. They are trying to build structures that will incarcerate our youth and will incarcerate our future instead of really educating them, which is what we should be focused on.
The state’s assembly and senate budget committees will be reviewing Brown’s budget proposal in May, and a budget should pass shortly thereafter.
Zuñiga says that despite a decrease of 40,000 prisoners in the past six years, the state has not seen any decline in prison spending. She urges Californians who want money spent on community-enhancing areas to attend CURB’s rallies held in San Jose, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Riverside and Bakersfied.
If you care about your community, education, health and human services then you should be coming out. Because all of the particular cuts that have been taken from those particular areas have fueled incarceration and more policing in our communities, which really haven’t made our communities strong, but have instead broken them down.
For more information on these rallies, visit CURB’s website here.
Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @alyssa_fig.