Justice Reform Groups Praise California Lawmakers for Rejecting Governor’s $360.6 Million Plan to Expand/Reorganize San Quentin State Prison

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By The Vanguard Staff

SACRAMENTO, CA – The California State Senate and Assembly Thursday—in what criminal justice reform groups called “remarkable—rejected Gov. Gavin Newsom’s $360.6 million budget proposal to expand and reorganize San Quentin State Prison.

Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) and other criminal justice reform advocates opposed the proposal, and noted in a statement Friday “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.’”

CURB said state legislators “bristled at the proposal,” calling the expenditure ‘insulting’ and ‘unrealistic.’”

“The ‘San Quentin Rehabilitation Center’ is just a prison by another name,” charged CURB in an analysis of the governor San Quentin plan.

“We are concerned because there is little evidence that the Norway Model (now marketed as the ‘California Model’) will successfully reduce recidivism. California is not Norway. The administration’s efforts to create a ‘friendlier’ prison does nothing to address the systemic racism and violence that prisons perpetuate,” added CURB in a statement here. 

Noted Amber-Rose Howard, Executive Director of CURB, “Our lawmakers have sent a clear message to Governor 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.

“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,” added Howard.

CURB released a Prison Closure Roadmap detailing a 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,” said CURB.

Newsom promised to close two prisons in the 2020-21 state budget, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced a third state prison would close by 2025, said Howard, adding, “Taxpayer resources would be better used towards policies and programs that prevent harm and address social issues head-on, rather than expanding prison infrastructure.”

CURB said Newsom’s proposal, “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.”

The Newsom Administration and CDCR “are pushing for a “new philosophy of incarceration…(but this) diverts attention away from the urgent need to protect incarcerated individuals’ well-being through decarceration and diverts resources better spent on community-based care,” said CURB.

Noting “California Model” proponents claim they want “people in prison to be prepared to re-enter society,” CURB said, “We wholeheartedly support rehabilitation efforts in prisons that are managed by community-based organizations. We want people incarcerated in toxic prisons to be successful when they return home to their friends and families. 

“However, we are deeply skeptical of initiatives co-led by rogue departments like CDCR. And make no mistake, regardless of any proposed advisory body, CDCR will play an outsized role in administering San Quentin’s ‘transformation.’”

CURB said San Quentin has been locked down the past week, and “incarcerated people accuse CDCR staff of escalating retaliation in response to the Governor’s reform efforts,” and Howard argued, “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.”

CURB noted “CDCR has been under federal court orders since 1995 for failing to provide a constitutional level of mental and medical health care to incarcerated people. Armstrong v. Newsom alleges that the department is assaulting, abusing, and retaliating against people with disabilities. 

“Attempts to address staff misconduct through the installment of Audio Video Surveillance Systems (AVSS) and body-worn cameras in nine prisons has done nothing to abate a culture of abuse, harm, persecution and carelessness by staff.

“CDCR has been cited for physical abuse, rape, denial of food, verbal abuse, tampering with mail and property, and retaliation for reporting misconduct. Their response to suicide attempts or ideation is so inappropriate that a judge is imposing a daily fine until it’s addressed. Nothing about their track record suggests CDCR will be successful in implementing ambitious reform efforts,” charged CURB.

“Sinking tens of millions into the ‘California Model’ project undermines the Newsom Administration’s stated commitment to shrinking our state’s prison system. Data from the Legislative Analyst’s Office has affirmed that closing more prisons––not reinventing them––is the best next step to address California’s budget deficit, yet Gov. Newsom instead plans to allocate taxpayer dollars towards creating ‘kinder, gentler’ prisons for incarcerated individuals,” said CURB.

The “California Model” fails to address two critical issues, insists CURB: “There are still too many people incarcerated in California’s prisons, and too many prisons in California. CDCR has failed to provide a roadmap to close prisons for more than five years, and when prisons do close, CDCR’s budget has only increased. CDCR is a money pit that will shift and morph in response to the political climate, including well-intentioned calls for reform. Instituting these reforms will become part of their latest cash grab.”

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.”

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