by Brian Kaneda, CURB
Sacramento – In a remarkable rebuke, both the California State Senate and Assembly have rejected Gov. Gavin Newsom’s $360.6 million capital outlay budget proposal for the expansion and reorganization of San Quentin State Prison.
Yesterday’s decision comes after considerable advocacy from Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) and other criminal justice reform advocates who have led opposition to the proposal. Last week, the state’s own non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office delivered a withering analysis of Gov. Newsom’s San Quentin project, calling it “unnecessary and problematic.” Lawmakers also bristled at the proposal, dubbing the prison spending plan “insulting” and “unrealistic.”
“We applaud the legislature’s rejection of additional funds for the San Quentin project. It’s a significant victory for the people of California and an affirmation that our state should reduce prison spending,” said Amber-Rose Howard, Executive Director of CURB. “Our lawmakers have sent a clear message to Gov. Newsom that spending hundreds of millions of dollars to expand a prison is not in line with our state’s values. We hope he’s listening.”
Read CURB’s statement on “reimagining” San Quentin Prison here.
In March, CURB released a Prison Closure Roadmap which outlines a comprehensive strategy for the safe and timely closure of more prisons in California. Closing California prisons could save the state billions as it confronts an estimated $32 billion deficit.
The push to close prisons has gained momentum. Gov. Newsom pledged to close two prisons in the 2020-21 state budget, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced that a third state prison would close by 2025.
“Taxpayer resources would be better used towards policies and programs that prevent harm and address social issues head-on, rather than expanding prison infrastructure,” Howard continued.
Newsom’s proposal, which was intended to “transform” San Quentin into a “center for innovation focused on education, rehabilitation, and breaking cycles of crime,” has been widely criticized for its high cost and vague objectives. Critics, including people currently and formerly incarcerated at the prison, have expressed concerns about the viability and scalability of the project.
San Quentin has been locked down the past week, and currently incarcerated people accuse CDCR staff of escalating retaliation in response to the governor’s reform efforts. “The culture of CDCR is defined by abuse and neglect, it’s endemic. What’s happening right now at San Quentin is more direct evidence as to why this is the wrong path for California,” Howard said.
The Assembly approved $20 million from the General Fund for the San Quentin project, and the Senate approved some aspects of the plan as budget trailer language. Deliberations will continue until the final state budget is enacted this June.
CURB has urged Gov. Newsom to follow the Legislature’s recommendations, reduce prison spending, and adopt a concrete plan to close more prisons that includes transformative investments in housing, reentry services and community-based care.
Brian Kaneda, deputy director of Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), can be reached at email@example.com or 323-273-5000.