by Diana Zuniga, Californians United for a Responsible Budget
Sacramento – This week members of Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), advocates and activists representing diverse communities are attending the Senate Public Safety and Assembly Budget Committee hearings in Sacramento to speak out against billions in funding for new prison and jail expansion.
SB 1377 by Sen. Nielsen will be heard on Tuesday at the Senate Public Safety Committee hearing, which would allocate $2.8 billion to open up 32,000 new prison beds. [That bill failed to pass by a vote of 5-2. – ed.] On Wednesday, the group will be opposing a line item in Gov. Brown’s 2014-15 budget which proposes that California approve the sale of another $500 million in lease revenue bonds to fund county jail construction across California.
“Currently California stakeholders, the governor, legislators and lobbyists are pushing for more than $4 billion to expand a system of mass incarceration that is already a tragic mess. People locked up in California’s cages are already suffering from overcrowding, inadequate health care and mental health care and lack of programming,” exclaims Mary Sutton, Critical Resistance, Los Angeles, one of over 55 organizations in the CURB coalition.
In February, the state was forced to stop admission to its brand new prison hospital in Stockton because it couldn’t provide the proper care or even basic supplies for sick, dying and disabled prisoners who were already in the 1,722-bed facility. The Stockton Hospital opened last summer and is one of the state’s newest prison projects built with funds generated by bond sales approved by AB 900 in 2007.
This week members of Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), advocates and activists representing diverse communities are attending the Senate Public Safety and Assembly Budget Committee hearings in Sacramento to speak out against billions in funding for new prison and jail expansion.
Already funded AB 900 jail projects – some are currently under construction or still in planning stages – add a $1.2 billion debt to the state budget, not including billions of dollars in debt service on lease revenue bonds for years to come. Through SB 1022, the state of California recently approved another $800 million in bond sales for prison expansion and $500 million for jail expansion. Now Sen. Jim Nielsen’s SB 1377 proposes to increase funding for prison construction to $2.8 billion, authorizing the CDCR to add 32,000 beds to existing prison facilities.
“This is outrageous! A policy of increased prison and jail spending demonstrates misguidedness, arrogance and greed while whole communities are being devastated and disenfranchised. We know the only sustainable solution to overcrowding is to lock up less people. The Legislature should do that by supporting sentencing reforms and investing in building strong communities,” says Emily Harris, CURB statewide coordinator.
A 2014 report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office on Feb.19, 2014, recommends that proposals for new jail construction funding be put on hold until the state conducts an analysis of what space is needed and whether counties have maximized alternatives to creating jail space.
“We need to invest in the future by funding social services, education, healthcare and drug treatment programs, not by building cages for our children,” states Dayvon Williams, Youth Justice Coalition. “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.”
The Assembly Budget Committee hearing will begin on Wednesday, April 23, at 1:30 p.m. in Room 437 of the Capitol in Sacramento.
Diana Zuniga of Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) can be reached at Diana@curbprisonspending.org.