By Julie McCaffrey
SACRAMENTO, CA – A decarceration group that wants to close 10 state prisons released a new Prison Closure Roadmap this week as a “concrete strategy” to close prisons in California in a safe and timely manner, and has called for Gov. Newsom and the California legislature to adopt the roadmap.
These 10 prisons, said Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), were selected based on data from more than 2,000 people impacted by the current justice system, and represent every prison in the state.
Advocates claim the facilities chosen were considered the worst when it comes to several issues, including overcrowding, exposure to Valley fever, contaminated water, isolation from loved ones, high incarceration costs – and should be prioritized to be shut down first.
This roadmap also covers several initiatives instrumental to reimagining prison structures in California. They include Prison Population Reduction and Facility Closure Strategies; Selecting Prisons for Closure; Decarceral Just Transition and Support for Impacted Communities; and Prison Repurposing.
CURB said rather than attempting to create “kinder” systems of human caging, their plan “offers a decarceral just transition framework, whereby California can support any city or town with a prison in shifting the local economy and community away from a perceived reliance on incarceration, and toward healthy and life-affirming investments in services, infrastructure, and high road jobs.”
CURB highlighted “the importance of supporting communities impacted by incarceration and towns where prisons close through an Economic Transformation Pilot Program, California Redevelopment Grants, and funds from existing environmental, housing, and mental health programs,” and “provides guidance on prison repurposing, an emerging practice across the United States, to ensure that closed prisons are repurposed for positive, non-carceral use.”
Amber-Rose Howard, Executive Director of CURB, states that “Prison closure is happening in California, but what has been missing is a concrete roadmap for how California can close more prisons successfully and shift billions of dollars in cost savings from wasteful prison spending to the communities most impacted by incarceration.”
She continues, “Californians need such a roadmap now more than ever before.”
CURB said its roadmap was introduced during a critical time for prison reform. Just last week, the Newsom Administration announced its plans to shift the image of San Quentin Prison from a prison to a rehabilitation center.
This occurs, added CURB, while the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) faces criticism during the legislative oversight hearings in March for its budget and its supervision of the continuing prison closure process.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) wrote, said CURB, in a report that CDCR has no concrete plans for additional state prison closure, suggesting without one, California stands to lose billions of dollars of prisons that may close soon.
LAO maintains that nine prisons could be closed without overcrowding other prisons, saving California a significant amount of money, CURB said, adding the governor pledged to close two prisons in the 2020-2021 state budget. CDCR announced a third would close by 2025.