Opponents Rally Against California Jail Expansion

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Following the May 13 release of Governor Jerry Brown’s revised state budget, advocacy groups are speaking out against Brown’s plan to funnel $500 million into jail expansion. Groups like Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) are protesting the potential multi-billion dollar cuts to recidivism-reducing programs, and investment in new correctional construction.

CURB member groups joined other activists and advocates at a series of Senate Public Safety and Assembly Budget Committee hearings in April to protest the planned jail and prison expenditures. “We need to invest in the future by funding social services, education, healthcare and drug treatment programs, not by building cages for our children,” Dayvon Williams of the Youth Justice Coalition, a CURB Coalition member, told the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper in April. “Continuing to fund new jails de-incentivizes any political will to reduce jail and prison populations. Additionally funding social services rather than jails can save counties hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Brown’s newly revised budget includes a nearly 3 percent increase to his earlier correctional allocation, which was released in January, boosting the total correctional budget to $9.8 billion. The $500 million in jail expansion funds outlined in Brown’s first budget draft would be made available through the sale of lease revenue bonds, and would fund county jail construction projects throughout California.

However, opponents say these projects add substantial debt to the state, and will force Californians to grapple with debt service on lease revenue bonds well into the future. Citing both financial and social concerns, activists have already impacted several pieces of key California correctional legislation.

SB 1377, sponsored by Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), was struck down by a 2-5 vote in the Senate Public Safety Committee in April. That bill, along with AB 2356, sponsored by assembly member Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo) who later pulled it, would have upped jail construction spending to roughly $1.2 billion and added more than 30,000 beds to the statewide prison system. Prior to their defeat, the total cost for these bills was estimated at $4 billion.

Meanwhile, CURB has continued to push for alternatives to new jail spending, focusing on the construction of supportive housing for women and children and individuals transitioning out of homelessness, establishing youth centers and reentry programs, and creating transitional programs for the mentally ill.

The Senate Budget Committee has also expressed opposition to Brown’s jail spending plan, voting against the $500 million allocation in favor of expanded social services at a May 8 hearing.