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Bill to propel $12 billion prison construction project sent to governor with budget package

January 9, 2009

While governor and legislature propose massive cuts to education and 2,000 public works projects are on hold, prison expansion is pushed forward

The solution to prison overcrowding, like this packed gym at the California state prison at Lancaster, is to send prisoners home to take care of their families, not to build more prisons. – Photo: Spencer Weiner, AP
The solution to prison overcrowding, like this packed gym at the California state prison at Lancaster, is to send prisoners home to take care of their families, not to build more prisons. – Photo: Spencer Weiner, AP
While the governor and the legislature propose massive cuts to education, delays or cancellation of 2,000 public works projects including voter approved projects to retrofit schools – among the budget bills sent to the governor was a bill to fix problems with AB900, the largest prison construction plan in history.

“The governor and our legislature were supposed to be reducing California’s budget deficit. Instead, the legislature passed ABX1-10 – clean up language necessary to implement 2007′s massive prison construction plan,” says Debbie Reyes of the California Prison Moratorium Project, members of the statewide coalition, Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB).

AB900 was passed in the early hours of the morning on April 26, 2007, without voter approval and with no public hearings. “As we cancel or delay voter approved projects to retrofit schools, the legislature is moving forward with $12 billion worth of new prison and jail beds – without voter approval and without money to build or operate those new beds,” says Geri Silva of CURB member Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes.

Using lease revenue bonds, AB900 would add up to 53,000 new prison and jail beds and at least $1.6 billion per year in operating costs to California’s $10 billion prison budget. The cost to taxpayers for construction and debt service on the high yield bonds is projected to reach $12 billion. Though the bill suggests that there will be rehabilitation programs created in conjunction with the new prison beds, AB900 does not include money for staff or general operations, let alone new programs.

Late last year, the Pooled Money Investment Board put 2,000 public works projects on hold because the state’s fiscal disaster makes it impossible to sell bonds. California’s credit rating is now the lowest in the nation.

“If we are choosing among public works projects, a positive vision for California’s future and children dictates that we preserve funding for schools and cancel projects for more prison beds,” says Manuel La Fontaine II of All of Us or None, also members of CURB.

“So far, no AB900 beds have been built. No bonds have been sold. And we face an historic budget crisis. These facts, along with the governor’s veto of the budget bills, gives the legislature yet another chance to do the right thing,” says Mary Sutton of Critical Resistance Los Angeles, members of CURB. “We must reduce our reliance on prisons by refusing to pass clean up language for AB900 and canceling the project altogether.”

Initial AB900 projects have faced organized opposition from communities across the state. The residents of the rural town of Madison in Yolo Country filed a lawsuit stating the county supervisors violated state and local laws when they voted for the 15-acre construction project, ignoring the environmental impacts. “The proposed Madison site is in a FEMA-designated high-risk flood zone and an agricultural preserve. It also has a complete lack of water, sewer, electrical and gas infrastructure,” says Robyn Rominger of Save Rural Yolo County.

To address New York’s budget crisis, their governor is proposing to close four prisons. And the federal court currently hearing the case on prison overcrowding is poised to order a reduction in the number of people in prison in California.

Expanding prison capacity would also impact any attempts to reduce the number of people in prison. “We appreciate that the legislature did pass some changes to parole and corrections policies that should reduce the number of people in California’s prisons, but canceling new prison construction needs to be among those changes,” says Carol Strickman of CURB member Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. “History teaches us if you build more beds, you fill those beds.”

For more information, contact Rose Braz at (510) 435-6809 or

9 thoughts on “Bill to propel $12 billion prison construction project sent to governor with budget package

  1. Kima

    Hi Rose. I just checked the Senate’s website and it shows that this bill, ABx1-10, was vetoed by Arnie on January 6th, 2009. So…what’s next? Does that mean it’s dead in the water (hopefully)? Also, do you have any more info on bill AB1x 8 that Arnie recently vetoed (that would have allowed less parole resrictions, etc.)? I have been following this pretty closely, along with the 3 judge panel and a possible prison population cap, but it seems that the media has kept things pretty quiet lately regarding prison and parole reform.

  2. rich mckone

    Who do you believe – our outstanding governor and legislators or the unelected, independent Legislative Analysist?

    Our Governor and many legislators alerted us to a terrible and apparently sudden prison overcrowding problem. They repeatedly cautioned that prisons were “operating at over 200 percent of design capacity”, implying, but not exactly stating, a shortage of over 80,000 beds. They promptly passed AB 900 to fund construction of 40,000 more prison beds at a cost of $6.5 billion. Construction shouldn’t take more than four years. They labeled it prison reform and moved on to deal with other problems, like the budget deficit. Needless to say, correctional employee unions were very pleased.

    The Legislative Analysist, (LAO) assessed AB 900 and reported a 16,600 prison bed shortage, relying on national correctional prison bed standards. No one even bothered commenting on the LAO’s ridiculous claim. The LAO even claims there is a permanent prison bed capacity of 156,500 beds. Based on that dubious claim, the prison bed shortage has declined to 8,500 beds as of November 30, 2008.

    The LAO’s figures imply that prison overcrowding could be quickly eliminated without any construction in a couple months by simply increasing the percentage of contract beds from 4% to 9%.

    Who do you believe?

  3. sherri

    stop playing with our prisoners constituational rights. we want our prisoners to be rehabillatated and not coming home with deadly dieases,because you can not make a desion on whats right. You know and I know that half of the men in there should not be there,but some should,keep the ones that need to be there.we would have more money for schools,if our systems was not so corrupt,now our fathers or mothers,sisters or brothers are in prison living like rats and dogs.where is there rights and where is the health care needed?send these prisoners home if you dont want to take care of them and let there family take care of them.

  4. Ann Rodriguez

    I was wondering on what was the new changes of the the parole reform on the pre-release criteria. I was wondering if you can email me some information on what is the new change? I really appreciate it thank you.

  5. wayne

    I just paroled aug. 2008. during my incarceration i continued to ask for a rehab program.Of course i was denyed.Upon release i asked parole about rehab programs. I was imformed none was in place in my county.I think the money being spent on rehabilitation in prison in californin should be rederected to county run programs. Lets leave prison for what it was designed for, punishment.

  6. Karen

    Wayne is right, the communities have got to pick up the slack. This country is incarerating more young people than any other country in the world and for longer periods of time thanks to mandatory sentencing which only increased the revenues of “For Profit Prisons” that the Ivy League boys are promoting for their wealth. Check out if you care to educate yourselves. This is a multi-billion dollar industry. I as a concerned employer, started researching and am appalled at what we have allowed in our country. We trusted the system to do what was right and it has totally abused our trust. 10,000 Minnesota businessmen hired a lobbyist to reduce recidivism so taxes could be lowered. If 10,000 Californians called the state capital and simply asked the Gov. to lower recidivism, it would catch his attention. Make the call.

  7. wilson

    why should taxpayers pay for prisons when if they would just bring corporal punishment back we would not have the crime problems we have today. and we would not need all of these prisions.


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