Californians call for ‘Decarceration Budget,’ more prisoner releases and funds for community care

Los Angeles County is home to the largest jail system in the world.

Newly formed COVID-19 Special Budget Committee receives more than 770 public comments demanding reduced spending on prisons, increased money for services

by Brian Kaneda

Community organizers Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), Justice LA and Color of Change mobilized more than 770 people to provide public comment yesterday to the newly formed Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee on COVID-19. The comments demanded a “Decarceration Budget” that shifts spending away from corrections and incarceration and toward community-based services and housing. 

Advocates balked at potential multi-million dollar increases to probation departments and noted slow progress by county and state officials to decarcerate jails and release tens of thousands of elderly and medically vulnerable people from prisons who are at-risk from the coronavirus. 

Read excerpts from Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) submitted statement:

“The substantial increases to state spending on corrections in Gov. Newsom’s proposed budget are deeply concerning, especially in the era of COVID-19. The increases bring spending on corrections up to an astounding $16.4 billion, in spite of the state’s prediction that the adult prison population decline is trending downward.”

“As Gov. Newsom plans to accelerate the release of 3,500 people, and as we urge the governor to use his executive authority to grant vast clemencies and releases of the people in prisons most vulnerable to COVID-19, we urge the legislature to prioritize spending that will help support a community based system of care across California that assists returning community members, prevents further incarceration and provides care instead of cages.” 

“Historically, funds given to probation departments have been horribly mismanaged. We want these resources to go directly into communities and be put towards people’s needs.”

“Gov. Newsom’s current proposed budget allocates $124.8 million to Probation to stabilize SB678 funding. The legislature must not rely on Probation Departments, but instead allocate funds directly to community-based organizations that prioritize capacity building for the most marginalized Californians.”

“We demand that Gov. Newsom and the state legislature take immediate action to execute their legal responsibility to protect incarcerated people who are vulnerable to the coronavirus, especially older and sick people, including those serving Life Without Parole sentences (LWOP), by commuting their sentences and/or expediting their release; providing funding to county Public Defender’s Offices to expedite jail population reduction; halting the expansion of ICE detention facilities; declaring a moratorium on transfers from county or state custody to ICE; and allocating at least $125 million for community-based organizations across the state to support the following:

  • Emergency housing for houseless people.
  • Transitional housing for people being released from jails and prisons, including quarantine units.
  • Permanent housing for houseless people and people being released from jails and prisons.
  • Community-based treatment for people with mental health, behavioral health and biomedical needs transitioning out of incarceration.
  • Pretrial and post release services.
  • Post-conviction review and resentencing.
  • Alternatives to incarceration to support the release of additional people from jails and prisons.” 

“We know the only sustainable solution to reducing the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and jails is to drastically reduce the population, decrease recidivism and support our communities safely.”

Public comments routinely highlighted the need to send additional state funds to Los Angeles County – home to the largest jail system in the world – in support of community-based diversion, healthcare and reentry services. 

“It is clear that the advocacy of the last decade has shifted the landscape of LA County away from both incarceration and risk-based supervision models that don’t set people up for success,” said Ivette Alé, senior policy lead at Dignity & Power Now and a lead organizer with Justice LA. “Historically, funds given to probation departments have been horribly mismanaged. We want these resources to go directly into communities and be put towards people’s needs.”

The state has already spent $2.1 billion on COVID-19 relief efforts. “We know that most of the work is still ahead of us,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell, chair of the Senate Subcommittee. On Monday, the Assembly Budget Committee is set to further scrutinize California’s coronavirus spending. 

Brian Kaneda is L.A. coordinator for CURB (Californians United for a Responsible Budget), 7625 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90001, www.curbprisonspending.org. He can be reached at brian@curbprisonspending.org.