Gov. Brown tries to justify unconstitutional prison overcrowding, backslides on Corrections budget

by Emily Harris, Californians United for a Responsible Budget

Sacramento – The state of California filed another response Tuesday to the federal court order to reduce dangerous overcrowding in California’s prisons, urging the court to end the 137.5 percent population cap. In the Motion to Vacate or Modify Population Reduction Order, the state claimed that “overcrowding and health care conditions cited by this Court to support its population reduction order are now a distant memory.” California’s prisons currently hold 133,000 in space that was intended for 80,000.

Gov. Jerry Brown displays proclamation declaring end to prison overcrowding by Rich Pedroncelli, APThis is one in a series of attempts by the Brown administration to evade the court’s order to reduce the prison population. In September, the court rejected Brown’s attempt to raise the population cap to 145 percent.

“If people’s lives weren’t at stake, claiming that caging one and a half times the people our prisons were built to hold isn’t overcrowding would be laughable. But this isn’t laughable; it’s morally outrageous,” says Diana Zuñiga, field organizer for Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “There are clear, safe ways to bring people back to our communities that would increase public safety and free more funding for social services and the education system the governor claims to value so much. It’s time for this administration to stop dragging its feet and make the kind of change Californians have been demanding for years.”

Advocates have proposed a series of parole and sentencing reform measures to reduce incarceration rates and corrections costs while improving public safety, many of which have been proven to work in other states. Examples include releasing prisoners convicted under California’s Three Strikes law made eligible for release by Proposition 36, releasing terminally ill and permanently medically incapacitated prisoners, implementing a release program for older prisoners, expanding good time credits and reforming drug sentencing laws.

According to weekly population reports from CDCR, California state prisons continue to remain crowded well beyond intended design capacity. Based on the CDCR January report, the recently-converted Valley State Prison for Men is at 292 percent of capacity and, as a result of the conversion, the Central Valley Women’s Facility is at 184 percent. The total CDCR system is at 146.1 percent.

“Instead of releasing people and closing VSPW, they are squeezing over 1,000 women and transgender people into the two remaining women’s prisons. The conversion has only aggravated overcrowding, created dangerous conditions, and caused health care to deteriorate. What’s more, they have added yet another men’s prison to their inhumane system,” says Hafsah Al-Amin from California Coalition for Women Prisoners.

Hundreds of former prisoners, family members, and advocates will rally at Valley State Prison on Saturday, Jan. 26.

Gov. Brown backslides on Corrections budget, plans more rat holes

Gov. Brown’s 2013-14 budget, released Thursday, Jan. 10, echoes comments earlier this week that the administration has deserted plans to shrink California’s over-sized prison population, ignoring clear messages from voters. The proposed budget increases prison spending $250 million, including a $52 million General Fund increase, bringing the total Corrections budget over $11 billion. Despite the passage of Prop. 36 and continuing realignment (transferring some prisoners from state prisons to county jails), it also projects an increase in the prison population by 2,262 people over the 2012 Budget Act projections.

“If the governor believes that ‘we can’t pour more and more dollars down the rat hole of incarceration,’ then why is he increasing spending on Corrections, planning for more prisoners rather than fewer and defying the demands of the federal court and the voters to further shrink the prison system?” asked Diana Zuñiga, field organizer for Californians United for a Responsible Budget.

Gov. Jerry Brown points to prison reports, declares prison overcrowding ended by Rich Pedroncelli, APThe overwhelming passage of Prop. 36 was widely recognized as a mandate from California voters to further reduce the prison population. A post-election poll by Californians for Safety and Justice determined that 62 percent of voters believe too much state funding goes to California’s prison system, and 86 percent agree that more resources should be dedicated to preventing crime rather than funding prisons and jails.

In contrast, the governor’s budget plans to increase capital outlays in the corrections budget from $27 million this year to $69 million next year, which has Californians questioning whether his plans include building even more prisons in 2013-14.

“Why is Brown building more rat holes? We don’t want more rat holes and we don’t want better rat holes. We want fewer Californians locked away and fewer of our state dollars spent on Corrections,” declared Zuñiga.

The $11 billion prison budget comes just days after the Brown administration declared the California prison crisis over. Contrary to claims that the prison system is no longer crowded, Central California Women’s Facility is at 184.4 percent capacity, well over the court’s 137.5 percent target, and the entire system is currently at 146 percent capacity.

The Los Angeles Times has endorsed former Gov. George Deukmejian’s call that the state’s prison population be reduced at least to 110,000, more than 20,000 fewer than are in the system this week. Realignment and other reforms are, as the Times notes, “only a beginning.”

After years of cuts, today’s budget includes an increase in spending on K-12 and higher education, the CSU and UC systems each receiving an additional $125 million in funding for core instructional programs, a 5 percent increase. Education advocates would like to see even further restorations. “We are encouraged that Gov. Brown wants to spend some of the money we do have on our schools and our colleges, but this budget reflects only a modest step to fight against the devastating fee increases that have been pushing low and middle income students out of California’s higher education system. We need a real plan to rollback the fee increases of the last decade, and the funds should come out of the bloated state corrections budget,” said Raquel Morales, president of the University of California Student’s Association.

How you can help

Submit a letter to the editor today to your local paper responding to Gov. Brown’s announcement on Tuesday the prison overcrowding crisis is over and that the federal court should lift the population cap on our state prisons.

Below you will find:

  • two draft letters to the editor
  • a summary of all the major media articles
  • info on how to submit letters to the editor to each paper
  • info on word limits

Use these letters as a template. Edit them as much as you can before submitting them, so the same letter isn’t submitted multiple times! The more personal you make your letter the better. The more letters each paper gets the more likely they are to editorialize in favor of keeping the population cap and reducing the prison population, so please circulate this action alert to anyone who you think would be willing to submit a letter.

Please email me at to confirm that you submitted a letter and to which paper so we know which outlets to track.

Sample letters

The article, [INSERT ARTICLE NAME], reports Governor Jerry Brown’s attempts to justify the unconstitutional prison overcrowding that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled as the primary cause of poor medical and mental health care in California’s prisons. While the California prison system still remains at 146.1 percent overcapacity, Governor Brown insisted that the “overcrowding and health care conditions cited by this Court to support its population reduction order are now a distant memory,” which is far from the truth. Instead of submitting possible alternatives to the overcrowding problem, such as releasing Prop. 36 eligible strikers, releasing terminally ill and permanently medically incapacitated prisoners, implementing an older prisoner release program, expanding good time credits and reforming drug sentencing laws, he continued to defend the “tremendous improvements” the administration has made. He also stated, “The name of the game in politics is to shift responsibility; we all do it,” which begs the question, to whom he is shifting responsibility? Based on the CDCR figures, the prison overcrowding crisis has not ended, but has also shifted to a jail crisis due to realignment. Counties are now feeling the fiscal and physical weight of an increasing jail population. As a result, not only the state, but also the counties are looking to structurally expand. Expansion is not the answer. The state and county administrations need to look at a different approach in which education and alternatives to incarceration are the priorities.

Jerry Brown declares that overcrowding and inadequate health care are a “distant memory” in California’s prisons while the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) is bursting at the seams at 185 percent capacity. Elder women have to climb into upper level bunk beds, people are unable to get in to see the doctor for urgent medical issues, and basic hygiene items to prevent the spread of disease are unavailable. Brown is a master of dodging responsibility when it comes to the prison system, shifting his headaches to the counties through realignment and now issuing a proclamation that the prison emergency is over. The 3,674 women at CCWF could tell a different story, but conveniently Brown vetoed a media access bill in September, making it that much harder for the public to know what is really going on in prisons across the state. Hopefully, the federal three-judge panel that now oversees the California prison system will see through Brown’s hype and insist that the Supreme Court’s mandate to reduce overcrowding stays in place.

Media round-up

San Francisco Chronicle: “Jerry Brown says prison emergency over,” published Tuesday, Jan. 8. Letters to the editor are limited to 200 words; submit to

Los Angeles Times: “Brown fails to produce prison plan, seeks end of court control,” published Monday, Jan. 7, and “Jerry Brown calls on feds to relinquish hold on state prisons,” published Tuesday, Jan. 8. Letters to the editor are limited to 150 words; submit to or use their submission form. Include your full name, mailing address, phone number and email address.

Sacramento Bee: “Brown challenges court oversight of Calif. prisons,” published Tuesday, Jan. 8. Letters to the editor are limited to 150 words; submit to

Fresno Bee: “Brown challenges court oversight of Calif. prisons,” published Tuesday, Jan. 8. Submit letters to the editor to

Orange County Register: “Governor asking court to remove prison limits,” publishes Tuesday, Jan. 8. Submit letters to the editor to Provide your name and city of residence and your phone number, which will not be published. Letters of about 200 words will be given preference.

San Mateo Daily Journal: “Brown challenges court oversight of state prisons,” published Wednesday, Jan. 9. Submit letters to the editor to or 800 S. Claremont St. Ste. 210, San Mateo, CA 94402. Letters should be no longer than 250 words. Illegibly written and anonymous letters will not be accepted. Include a daytime phone number.

San Jose Mercury: “California challenges feds’ inmate population cap,” published Monday, Jan. 7, and “Governor argues California prisons should be removed from court orders to shed inmates,” published Tuesday, Jan. 8. Letters to the editor are limited to 150 words; submit to Include your name, address and daytime phone.

Oakland Tribune/Bay Area News Group: “Brown challenges court oversight of Calif. prisons,” published Wednesday, Jan. 8. Letters to the editor are limited to 175 words, submissions for My Word pieces to 550 words and Talk Back letters to 250 words. All letters are subject to verification and editing. For the Oakland Tribune, email letters to

Bakersfield Californian: “Brown challenges court oversight of California prisons,” published Tuesday, Jan. 8. Submit letters to the editor at

San Diego Union Tribune: “Brown Challenges court oversight of California prisons,” published Tuesday, Jan. 8. Submit letters to the editor to

Other coverage:

Emily Harris is statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget, 1322 Webster St. #210, Oakland, CA 94612, (510) 435-1176,,