Reductions in prison population can save the state billions


Brief filed in prison overcrowding lawsuit advocates the only real solution: Reduce the number of people in prison and cancel new prison construction

To lock up these men – this is a prison gym-turned-“dormitory” in Sacramento – many of them fathers, money is being drained out of education and health care for their children, who are denied a father and breadwinner. Free ‘em all! – Photo: Max Whittaker, New York TimesSan Francisco – As the lawsuit over prison overcrowding comes to a close and the state faces a massive budget shortfall, Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) is proposing the only real solution to the overcrowding crisis: reducing the number of people in prison and canceling new prison construction.

“The state has argued that this crisis can be alleviated by massive prison expansion, but past attempts to build our way out of overcrowding have always failed. CURB opposes the state’s $12 billion prison construction program, AB900, because it simply expands a failed system. It imposes huge human and financial costs with no improvement in public safety,” says Bob Lane of Critical Resistance, one of the CURB member organizations. Even Secretary of Corrections James Tilton admits California’s prisons are already “too big to manage.”

In referring to the state’s current budget crisis, Lane continued, “It speaks sadly of our vision for the future when voter approved projects to improve schools and transportation are threatened by the budget, yet we proceed with building more prisons funded by bonds not approved by the voters.”

CURB’s constituent organizations represent the individuals and communities directly impacted by the state’s public safety policies. “CURB’s proposals give voice to those who have the most direct interest in changing the state’s corrections policy,” says Hamdiya Cooks of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, another member of the CURB coalition.” People inside prisons have been forced to live under unconstitutional conditions for far too long, and their family members – including young children – have suffered along with them.”

In addition to enormous construction costs, AB900 commits taxpayers to future operating costs of more than $1.6 billion per year. “Massive expansion will continue to siphon money from education, health care and vital social services into more prisons,” says Karen Shain of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, also a CURB member. CURB asks the court to bar AB900’s implementation.

Based on reports from state commissions and experts, CURB recommends a number of specific measures to reduce the prison population: changes to parole and sentencing policy, fully funding drug treatment instead of imprisonment, releasing elderly persons, and providing housing, job assistance and health care to those returning from prison. “These measures will bring significant cost savings, calculated by the experts to be hundreds of millions of dollars per year,” adds Lane.

“The current proposals by the governor and the legislative analyst for early release and changes in parole policy are steps in the right direction,” says Shain. “But they have not been adopted by the Legislature and they do not go far enough. The changes CURB proposes will not only reduce the population but remove the pressures for future overcrowding.”

Contact CURB at 1904 Franklin St., Suite 504, Oakland CA 94612, (510) 444-0484, or


  1. When prison populations are reduced, where will those individuals who are a danger to our communities go? And what happens to our communities that are impacted by anti-social behaviors? What about community members, including children, who are victims of these individuals? Those who can move, get out. What about the rest of us? Analysis should go beyond “Free ’em all!” What about teaching race pride, atonement, the unacceptability of committing crime against your own people, no matter what? The unacceptable has become acceptable. Supporting these behaviors make people think ‘anything goes, no matter how destructive’, is alright. Well. it is not alright!!!

  2. Thanks for writing, Mary Alice. I hear your frustration and agree completely with the need for “teaching race pride, atonement, the unacceptability of committing crime against your own people.” At the same time, we must, I believe, literally lay down the law to those in authority who condone and are complicit in locking the doors of opportunity to Black people and other oppressed people.

    The term “peace and prosperity” implies the ancient wisdom that unless people can make a decent living and support their families, there can be no peace. It’s horrible – but natural – for anyone under extreme stress to turn on those around him, even his loved ones. All creatures do that. In order to improve our situation, we must change the circumstances that cause it. Let’s hope we can make some progress in that direction in 2009.

    Mary Ratcliff, editor, SF Bay View,

  3. Mary,
    I appreciate your response.
    By disclosure, I am a substitute teacher in NYC and a reporter/ columnist.
    I see and hear folk who state education is irrelevant.
    My mother taught me “an education is the one thing no one can take from you.’
    In NYC, 50% of Black males voluntarily drop out of high school, rendering themselves irrelevant, and
    closing the door for job opportunities for themselves. They then commit crimes as an ‘economic choice”.
    Also in NYC, 50% of Black males are unemployed/ unemployable according to a recent study.
    Crime, particularly violent crime, is consistent in certain NYC neighborthoods.
    “Ladies, Stop Giving ———– to Criminals, Please!”
    (XY Chronicles column on

    I was threatened after I wrote this, as if the conversation should only be about
    sympathy for males who voluntarily put themselves in this situation.
    Yet they can argue the 13th amendment ad nauseum.

    Apparently, those who commit crimes in the community want free reign to continue to
    do so, and have Black women available to them at the same time,
    no matter the impact of their behavior on these women.

    There is another way.
    If the reason for crime is lack of jobs, prepare for jobs by acquiring at least a basic education,
    which can be supplemented by the internet.
    An educated citizenry can pressure society for economic opportunity. Uneducated criminals can’t.
    My argument in the above link is that Black women play a part in this, by accepting males who
    reject education, and commit crimes as the only alternative.
    In addition, there is another strikingly different conversation taking place
    among Black women in many parts of the country,
    some of whom say they are tired of “breeding criminals.”
    Women and children notice the community action in support of Black males who are ‘victimized’
    by the criminal justice system, yet when they ask for support for women and children who are
    victims of crime, they are told “We can’t do that; it would be divisive.”
    We, as a people, can do better than this.
    Mary Alice

  4. The “”lock em up policies dont seem to be reducing crime. Education, community and economic empowerment has been proven to work. But year in and out we see the things that do work sent to the scrap pile.

  5. How about us changing our own culture for our benefit, instead of relying on others to “educate” us? Education is not just the three r’s, and does not just take place in the schoolhouse. It is also culture: the teaching of the way of life for an entire society, including codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, games, norms of behavior such as law and morality, and systems of belief. We are responsible for our culture. When we do not take responsibility, the prisons do. We can’t complain if we don’t do the work. No more excuses. Excuses are getting tired. And excuses don’t get the job done.
    BTW, in NYC, there were Black women whispering this question: “Is the feminization of the Black man almost complete?” They see excuses as weakness in Black men, and they are not interested in weakness or excuses anymore. Today’s Black man has more available to him than any slave could dream of. Some say today’s Black man is so soft they could not survive slavery, Reconstruction, or even the Civil Rights movement. It is obvious many cannot deal with the opportunities of 21st century life. One organization in NYC says it all with it’s name: Man Up!

  6. Jerry Brown is working to deny prisoners medical and mental health care, telling a pack of lies here, post beneath the video or we could lose our ten year campaign to improve healthcare for inmates. He is posturing to get elected, listen to what he says, he knows nothing about healing people. Posts are needed out there, the guards are out full force attacking the three judge panel, closing arguments are Feb 4, 450 Golden Gate Ave, San Francisco, 9 am sharp for rally, then we go to Judge Henderson’s courtroom on the 19th floor. we need at least 500 people there to get the national media coverage the crisis deserves. People are dying right now and can’t get help

    follow the news articles and stand up to the punishers so we don’t lose. Start here by calling Jerry Brown on his role in creating the crisis with his determinate sentencing laws

  7. Considering the conditions in prison, a rational people would avoid it at all costs. Law enforcement doea not respect people who commit crimes victimizing their own. It’s not rocket science. It’s human nature. People who don’t go to prison don’t have to worry about prison maltreatment. BTW, prison is not Club Med. Duh!! Why volunteer for it?
    We should speak up more against the behaviors that land our people in jail- the behaviors that victimize whole communities, have children living in fear.
    In Souls of Black Folks, WEB DuBois wrote: “the chief problem of any community cursed with crime is not the punishment of criminals, but the preventing of the young from being trained to crime.” Considering DuBois wrote this 100 years ago, we as a people are slow. We don’t learn from the wisdom of our brightest. It is easier to complain about what others do.
    If we really were upset about prison conditions, there is a simple solution: Boycott crime!!!! The whole system would go broke and crumble on itself– courts, law enforcement, social and mental health services, prisons, etc.
    All we would have to do is take control of our own culture- shun criminal behavior and stop glorifying the thug mentality. As it stands, we don’t take responsibility for our own behaviors, yet have much “analysis” of the behavior of others. Sad. And boring. We wonder why our young don’t respect older generations. Look at the broken culture and impotent whining we bequeath them.

  8. There is no doubt inmates in California have to be released, but there has to be major oversight as to which inmates to be released. The inmates who have been in and out of prison need the most rehabilitation. The state needs a panel of intelligent people to look at every inmate case and their behavior inside prison. Studies show that most of LWOP (life with out possibility) inmates are least likely to commit another crime. The inmates that have life who didn’t commit a crime toward society and never will need to have a review by an intelligent panel for release. If California just starts releasing inmates by certain guidelines the most dangerous will fall under those general guidelines. Some of the“ low-risk” inmates are more violent than the inmates that have life for one huge mistake, and has been a model inmate, if given a chance would be safe in society. California has to be smart, dig deep with intelligence on which inmates to be released.

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