by Isaac Ontiveros, Californians United for a Responsible Budget
Oakland – Monday the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) released “The Future of California Corrections: A Blueprint to Save Billions of Dollars, End Federal Court Oversight and Improve the Prison System,” an attempt to overhaul and redirect a prison system that has been floundering for at least a decade.
The report marks an attempt by the CDCR to grapple with 30 years of prison crisis in California. As many experts have noted, the Derminate Sentencing Law of 1977 pushed the state away from rehabilitative models and defined the sole purpose of prison as punishment. Beginning soon thereafter, the CDC built prison after prison until a grassroots political campaign and an environmental lawsuit delayed the construction of Delano II for six years. The week before that prison opened, CDC Secretary Rod Hickman announced it would be the last prison built in California.
The Derminate Sentencing Law of 1977 pushed the state away from rehabilitative models and defined the sole purpose of prison as punishment.
In the years since, Gov. Schwarzenegger officially renamed the department and returned “Rehabilitation” to its mandate, while cutting funds for education and counseling inside prisons. He pushed the notorious AB900 through the legislature, authorizing $7.7 billion for 40,000 new prison beds and 13,000 jail beds, but in the five years since, only a few dozen new beds have opened.
The CDCR has been stuck, as the go-go years of “If we build them, they will fill them” have ended but no new vision for CDCR has emerged. Today’s plan claims to meet that need.
“The Future of California Corrections” calls for the closure of the California Rehabilitation Center prison, the return of all 9,500 prisoners held under contract out of state, elimination of $4.1 billion in lease revenue bond authorization to build more prisons and jails from AB900 and the reclassification of 17,000 people currently held in high security yards.
“The Future of California Corrections” calls for the return of all 9,500 prisoners held under contract out of state, elimination of $4.1 billion in lease revenue bond authorization to build more prisons and jails from AB900 and the reclassification of 17,000 people currently held in high security yards. It would save taxpayers $1.5 billion a year.
“Communities across California should be proud of their tireless work in pushing the CDCR to recommend the cancellation of billions of dollars in wasteful prison construction and to end the transfer of California prisoners to contracted prisons out of state,” says Emily Harris, statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “This is an important step in downsizing California’s supersized prison system.”
According to the Associated Press, CDCR’s new plan would save taxpayers $1.5 billion a year.
But not all response to the CDCR’s report was positive. While the report details substantial cuts to prison spending, the department is requesting $810 million of new lease revenue bonds for the design and construction of three new level II dorm facilities. Harris continues, “Let’s be clear, we need to cancel all of AB900 and halt any other new proposed construction that is detailed in this plan.”
Karen Shain, policy director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, points out that the CRCR plan actually builds in an increase to overcrowding. “The CDCR’s announcement that they will petition the courts to increase the ceiling of overcrowding from 137.5 percent to 145 percent is a scandal,” says Shain. “The department, the legislature and the governor should be working to reduce overcrowding to zero, not 137 percent or 145 percent. An easy step could be to implement a geriatric parole process to address the rapidly aging population that is mentioned throughout this report.”
Others agree that much more needs to be done to stem the causes of California’s crisis. “Making realignment work is great, but what we need next is serious reform, both in sentencing and in parole,” says Debbie Reyes of California Prison Moratorium Project. “Our prisons are crowded and our budget is broke because for 30 years our legislature has been increasing sentences for every crime under the sun and inventing some new crimes along the way. Realignment, important as it is, does nothing but tinker with the effects. Until we change sentencing laws, we’ve done nothing to change the causes of mass incarceration.”
“Until we change sentencing laws, we’ve done nothing to change the causes of mass incarceration.” – Debbie Reyes, California Prison Moratorium Project
“The planned conversion of Valley State Prison for Women to a men’s prison fails to take advantage of existing programs to reduce the population of women’s prisons. We should be holding fewer women in prison, not repurposing Folsom to hold women,” says Cynthia Chandler, director of Justice Now. “Valley State should be closed. Shut the doors. Tear it down and build a memorial to those who spent time there.” The city of Chowchilla and the county of Madera have insisted that the prison not be converted to a men’s prison. Resistance to prison construction joins community fights to also stop costly expansion of county jails across the state.
Isaac Ontiveros of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization working to abolish the prison industrial complex, is a spokesperson for Californians United for a Responsible Budget and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. He can be reached at (510) 444-0484 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Bay View staff contributed to this story.