California Governor’s Latest Prison Reform Causes Community Concerns over State Prison Spending Capacities

By Avery Redula and Kayla Meraz

SACRAMENTO, CA – California Gov. Gavin Newsom is under fire for his latest “California Model” of prison reform, with community members raising concern over what they call ambiguous guidelines and how the reform can be exploited by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to increase prison budgets and prevent prison closures.

In a report released by the CDCR, the “California Model” provides only brief outlines of the Model’s goals, and addresses the current toxicity of prison environments for the incarcerated in prison and the repercussions after their release, said community advocates.

Goals of the plan include “improving health and well-being” of inmates and “reducing trauma and toxic stress,” and “reducing incidents of use of force, staff assaults, overdoses, self-harm, homicides, grievances, self-isolation, mental health crisis bed admits, and other identified outcomes.”

The CDCR report outlines ways these goals would be implemented through promoting positive relationships and communication, normalizing prison life to acclimate the incarcerated to the world outside the prison, and for the CDCR and prison staff to be “trauma informed organization(s)” to “recognize the impacts of trauma and ensure the physical and emotional safety of all staff and incarcerated individuals.”

Community members said they fear that these guidelines and goals of the “California Model” are broad and open to interpretation, leading the CDCR to increase their spending on prisons through the guise of rehabilitation.

Gov. Newsom has already approved a $360 million dollar San Quentin construction project to remodel it in the likeness of the “California Model,” but when the “California Model” came under fire, Newsom’s administration attempted to delineate the San Quentin project as different from the “California Model.”

Organizations such as Californians United for Responsible Budget (CURB) are the lead opponents to the “California Model,” and charge this new San Quentin budget is a “step in the wrong direction.”

CURB urged members of the San Quentin Advisory Council, a group created by Gov. Newsom to set guidelines of the San Quentin project and “California Model,” to abandon the project.

The advocates’ letter states, “No matter how well it [the San Quentin infrastructure] is designed, a building is just a building. Scaling this project across California prisons would cost $20 billion, and there are grave concerns about potential environmental and health harms caused by the demolition and construction at this site.”

The executive director of CURB, Amber-Rose Howard, noted disapproval of the California Model by suggesting this budget does not ensure “respect, care, and safety to incarcerated people.”

CURB said the budget does not ensure the sense of dignity or safety, noting previous examples of abuse were demonstrated through the state of California (which) could be held responsible for the Covid outbreak in 2020  “that infected thousands and killed at least 29 people” in prisons, and the sexual abuse that was charged to a guard at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF).

CURB and others said the concerns for the largest prison expansion was projected from the California Model along with the San Quentin rebrand, but can be overturned by the CDCR’s capacity report, urging the aid can be shifted by the Legislature from prison closures towards communities in need instead.

Howard added a guideline that can foster change for California in substitution for the California Model and San Quentin rebrand, through the CURB’s Prison Closure Roadmap, which prioritizes prison reform and closures by eliminating the oppressive systems “towards more sustainable, regenerative economies and systems of care.”

About The Author

Avery Redula is a second year at UC Davis studying English. After undergrad she plans to attend law school, where she can pursue criminal law. She is most interested in cases regarding domestic violence and gang violence, as she learned from her summers spent at the DA's office that they are issues that most affect her home county of San Joaquin.

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