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Preventing prison money grab in California

Photo: Cameron Bateman

California Governor Jerry Brown announced his plan to raid budget reserves meant to restore anti-poverty programs for more prison expansion. He wants to spend $315 million immediately, and billions over the next five years building and leasing prisons.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is part of a broad coalition of education, health and human services, and criminal justice advocates who are standing up against this appalling plan. In recent years AFSC offices throughout the country have been focusing on the issue of for-profit incarceration, whether for immigration detention, prison expansion, or privatizing services to prisoners.

“No matter how private companies profit on prisons, privatizing incarceration puts the pursuit of profits over the needs of taxpayers, prisoners, and prison employees,” says Caroline Isaacs of AFSC’s Tucson office, author of a comprehensive 2012 study, Private Prisons: The Public’s Problem. Rather than take advantage of the many more responsible ways to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce prison overcrowding, Gov. Brown is proposing a major money grab from the state’s reserve to house 9,600 more prisoners in private prisons.

“This is a shocking eleventh hour development,” says Laura Magnani, AFSC’s Healing Justice Program Director in San Francisco. “We have been working in partnership with over 40 community groups around the state to demonstrate a variety of ways the state can comply with the court mandate. There are many options which would be more effective, humane, and cost-saving than permanently committing taxpayers to an estimated $500,000,000 a year on private contracts.

“This is money coming directly out of the pockets of child care, in-home supportive services for the aged and disabled, mental health treatment, and other programs. For years these programs have been cut while the state wrestled with multi-billion dollar deficits. Rather than restoring these life-saving services, the governor wants to spend even more money on incarceration, which practically ensures greater violence and more recidivism.”

The research has been done. The alternatives to expanding prisons are clear and were presented to the court at the time of the Supreme Court hearings.

Ways to reduce prison population

The short list of possibilities for reducing the prison population includes:

Expand use of good-time credits for completing treatment, educational, and vocational programs; allow second strikers to retain good-time credits; and provide access to good-time credits for people housed in the solitary units (SHUs).

Potential reduction: 22,758
Anticipated savings: $584,299,706

Create parole eligibility for the elderly.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia define processes for releasing older prisoners, the ages covered range from 45 to 70 years old. Ninety percent of California prison healthcare costs come from older prisoners. This population has the lowest recidivism rate of any segment of the prison population. Potential reduction: As of June 30, 2012 the population of prisoners 55 and older was 13,979; by 2014, that number is projected to be at 16,228.

Anticipated savings: $98,000-$138,000 per year per prisoner (conservative estimate); $735,000,000

Expand medical parole for people who are permanently medically incapacitated.

Potential reduction: Up to 100 or more people annually.
Anticipated savings: $7,200,000 annually

Remove barriers to compassionate release for individuals who are terminally ill.

Potential reduction: More than 100 people annually. 
Anticipated savings: In excess of $120,000 per person released a year

Implement and expand the alternative custody program for primary caregivers of children.

Potential reduction: 1,023 (state corrections officials have approved 243 applications thus far.)
Anticipated savings: $2.5 million in 2014-2015; $5 million annually in subsequent fiscal years.

By adopting some combination of the above recommendations, Governor Brown can easily reach his 9,600 target without a single new private prison contract.

Learn more about the dangers, costs, and ethical problems with prison privatization, or watch the video conversation between AFSC staffers from around the country on this issue. 

What you can do today

If you are in California, you can add your voice by signing this petition to your legislator and to the governor.

If you're not in California, we still need you. Please call Governor Brown directly at (916) 445-2841 or fax him at (916) 558-3160. 

AFSC is working with Californians United for a Responsible Budget,  the California Partnership,, PICO California, ACLU of California, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement, Friends Committee on Legislation California, 9 to 5 Working Women, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, CAPPA Children’s Foundation, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, A New PATH, FACTS Education Fund, Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes, Fair Chance Project, San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper, Sin Barras, Critical Resistance LA, Critical Resistance Oakland, Lutheran Office of Public Policy – California, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, and more.  

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