Despite prison closures and historically low prison populations, California is failing to end its addiction to prison spending, advocates say
SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA––In response to Governor Gavin Newsom’s May Revise Budget for 2021-22 released today, Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) provided the following statement:
CURB applauds the major investments in health and human services the Newsom Administration is making that are equity-centered. However, the 2021-22 Budget Summary indicates total funding of $13.6 billion ($13.3 billion General Fund and $347 million other funds) for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) in 2021-22. If the state is truly decreasing its reliance on punitive answers to public safety, then why has the Corrections budget increased $200 million over last year? This figure is also misleading, because CDCR plans to spend a lot more.
Since 2013, the state prison system has gone from 150% of design capacity to just below the court-ordered cap of 137.5%. Spring projections now estimate an incarcerated adult average daily population of 106,259 which is the lowest in decades. These population reductions are not enough. As of May 2021, California prisons are still at 105.4% capacity during a global pandemic that infected at least 49,240 incarcerated people and killed at least 222. And yet, spending for overall corrections continues to rise. The corrections budget has grown steadily every year, from $8.9 billion (2012-2013) to this coming year’s proposed $13.6 billion in general funding.
CDCR and corrections spending is a money pit. Despite plans for prison closure and historically low prison populations, California is failing to end its addiction to prison spending. The May Revision includes an additional investment of $100 million in CDCR deferred maintenance projects. Instead of closing more prisons, the legislature and Governor’s administration continue to receive more requests from CDCR to increase the Corrections budget by billions of dollars for infrastructure repairs and expansion projects.
The administration’s own nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) calculated that shutting down five adult prisons in California would save $1.5 billion per year by 2025. However, their report (released in November of 2020), is focused only on addressing the economic cost of incarceration in California. The unprecedented events of 2020––both the pandemic, and the historic uprisings in support of Black life––have revealed to all Californians what marginalized communities have always known: racism and incarceration are public health crises.
In CURB’s report The People’s Plan for Prison Closure, we call on California to close at least 10 prisons over the next five years. Instead, The May Revision includes spending such as approximately $14 million for “facility improvements” at Valley State Prison (VSP)––a prison known to have toxic water––to create a “welcoming and community-like atmosphere” for incarcerated people.
We don’t need “nicer” prisons. We care very much for people living in unsafe prisons, but state officials continue to fail in doing what will actually protect people in prisons and public safety––more fully investing in communities and releasing people from dilapidated, poisonous prisons and jails.
The Newsom Administration is making good on many of its promises on prison closure. CDCR plans to close Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy by September 2021, achieving savings of $119 million General Fund in 2021-22, and $150.3 million General Fund annually beginning in 2022-23. The Department also plans to close the California Correctional Center in Susanville, by June 30, 2022. The closure of this facility is estimated to save the state $122 million General Fund in 2022-23 and ongoing.
We need more prison closures in California. Our coalition firmly believes that any roadmap created to close prisons must be participatory, centering the voices of Californians who are most impacted by incarceration, including people who are currently incarcerated; formerly incarcerated people; their family members across the state; and people living in prison towns.
A budget reveals what we truly value. California must redefine its priorities and completely reexamine its relationship with justice and safety to prioritize community-based care. Divestment from ineffective, punitive responses to harm––like prisons––is necessary in order to reallocate resources towards community-based answers to public safety and provide a sustainable fiscal future for all Californians.
––Amber-Rose Howard and Brian Kaneda, CURB Directors