by Lizzie Buchen, CURB
Oakland – The budget signed June 27 by Gov. Jerry Brown reflects Sacramento’s relentless reliance on incarceration. Although the budget includes some repairs to the social safety net, it nonetheless aggressively builds up California’s system of imprisonment, adding another $270 million to the state’s large-scale jail construction program, extending contracts for private prisons, increasing the number of prison guards and funding construction on a dilapidated prison in Norco that has been slated for closure since 2012.
This reinforcement of the state’s vast system of imprisonment comes as legislators, the governor and the general public have recognized that incarceration is failing people in low-income communities of color. Not only did the voters overwhelmingly choose prevention and treatment over punishment for low-level offenses through Prop 47, but the governor is pushing his own ballot initiative to reduce sentences for people in prison.
In the legislature, both the Senate and Assembly budget subcommittees voted to reject more jail construction. However, after the backroom deal-brokering in the last-minute budget negotiations, the funding for jail construction returned to the budget, a sign that law enforcement continues to gain power in Sacramento and remains tenacious in prying money from the legislature.
Although we celebrate the repeal of the cruel and punitive maximum family grant policy for CalWORKs and the modest increases to grants for seniors and people with disabilities and to addressing homelessness, we remain deeply opposed to the state’s prioritization of imprisonment as an intervention for poor people and people of color. By pouring more money into fortifying and expanding our expansive systems of prisons and jails, Brown is smoothing the way for ever-harsher sentences and policies, ensuring that today’s children will be imprisoned at the same sky-high rates as their parents and grandparents are today.
His bankrolling of prison and jail construction is a declaration that the programs for treatment, rehabilitation and reentry that he claims to support will do nothing to stem the flow of poor people into cages. It is an implicit acknowledgement that we plan to imprison even more people 20 years from now than we do today. It is a message to Black and Brown children in poor communities that the state’s expectation for their future is a life behind bars.
Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) is a statewide coalition of 70 grassroots organizations working to reduce the number of people in prisons and jails, the number of prisons and jails in the state, and shift state and local spending from corrections and policing to human services. CURB co-coordinator Lizzie Buchen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.