By Linhchi Nguyen
SACRAMENTO – California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) official Chris Lief (Deputy Director of Facility Planning) left questions unanswered when confronted about CDCR’s proposed multi-billion dollar budget for prison infrastructure.
During the proceedings this past week in the State Senate Subcommittee 5, Chair Maria Elena Durazo (D-LA) accused CDCR of leaving the legislature “in the dark” in its request for billions of dollars for prison projects without giving the “full picture” necessary for legislators to make responsible decisions.
Lief struggled to answer even the most direct questions about the proposed infrastructure repairs at various facilities which include toxic water supplies contaminated with arsenic and manganese at Valley State Prison (VSP) and Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF).
In response to the hearing, a statewide organization, called the Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), issued a statement calling for a “People’s Plan” for prison closure and bringing attention to the public health crisis of incarceration.
Caitlyn O’Neil, from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), also questioned CDCR’s fiscal analysis.
She stated that even though the CDCR reported a repair cost of approximately $1 billion, the overall cost for the prison repair projects would actually cost nearly $13 billion. Another report revealed an additional capital outlay of at least $11 billion to maintain the 12 oldest prisons in California.
On top of that, she said the CDCR failed to come up with any concrete plans for prison closure, despite Governor Newsom’s statements on the issue and the Legislative Analyst’s Office’s assertion that California could close five prisons by 2025.
“It’s really important to me that the administration commit to a long term prison closure plan,” said Senator Durazo, “and avoid scenarios in which we are making unnecessary investments [in prison capital projects]…we have to move this forward.”
CURB noted, “We need a ‘People’s Plan’ for prison closure, because it seems like government officials don’t view saving lives and billions of dollars as a priority.”
CURB further criticized the CDCR’s infrastructure costs, calling it a “bottomless pit of wasteful spending” with “no plan for prison closure and fuzzy math for their capital projects.” As a result, they urge legislatures to deny any increases to the Corrections budget for infrastructure needs.
“We care very much about people living in unsafe prisons,” CURB claimed. “We believe that the only responsible answer to protecting public safety is to grant mass releases and close more prisons down.”
In regards to a criteria for prison closure, members of CURB ask CDCR to consider the following: unsafe conditions, location/distance from communities, most overcrowded facilities, and most homicides and suicides.
CURB maintained decreasing prison populations will protect people from COVID-19, which is killing both staff and incarcerated people. Given the public health impact of these prisons, CURB stressed that the state cannot risk the lives of these people by continuing to “waste billions upon billions of dollars on failing prison infrastructure.”
Linhchi Nguyen is a fourth year at UC Davis, double majoring in Political Science and English. She currently lives in Sacramento, California.
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