Advocates Call for Closure of California Correctional Facilities in Response to Governor’s Budget

By Audrey Sawyer

SACRAMENTO, CA — California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s May Revised Budget has recently sparked criticism from criminal justice advocates for failing to include additional prison closures, according to a statement released this week by Californians United for A Sensible Budget.

Despite a budget deficit of around $73 billion and with potential to save more than $1.5 billion annually by closing prisons (and with billions more in infrastructure repair costs), CURB argues the proposal only includes minimal cuts to prison spending.

The cuts would include closing only 46 housing blocks across 13 state prisons (saving $80 million as a result, but only a small portion of CDCR’s $14.5 billion budget and overall bed capacity), maintains CURB.

While the state prison population in California has decreased significantly (currently around 93,000 while peak numbers in the year 2006 were around 165,000), CURB suggests the state is still utilizing costly facilities.

CURB has filed a petition to close CRC Norco in Riverside. Included in the petition are demands asking for another five prisons to be closed in addition to the closing of CRC Norco, and a commitment to close a minimum of four other state prisons in the future.

Amber-Rose Howard, executive director of CURB, said, “If the administration cannot select a prison to close, we are prepared to advocate for closure of specific prisons across the state. Closing entire prisons, such as California Rehabilitation Center in Norco (CRC), is a sensible step towards significant cost savings.”

While CURB points out that some towns have fought prison closures because of economic reasons, it also notes prison closure is part of the official legislative platform for the city. In 2021, CURB surveyed 2,000 incarcerated people who had cited CRC Norco as a “top prison to close.”

CRC Norco, said CURB, is a toxic prison, with an anonymously incarcerated individual at the prison charging the prison does not have air conditioning: “Without air conditioning, summer temperatures exceed 100 Degrees Fahrenheit. There are only five fans for 100 people.”

Back in 2012, former Gov. Jerry Brown had marked CRC Norco for closure, asserts CURB, noting the state had allocated $810 million to be directed to other sources, but the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) decided to keep it open, citing to ease “overcrowding” of other prisons.

CURB said Assemblyman Phil Ting (D) introduced a bill (AB 2178) to limit the CDCR’s overall bed capacity, and the only organization who has come out against the bill is the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), a law enforcement special interest group consisting of prison guards who negotiated a $1 billion in raises and bonuses from Newsom and one of the most reliable Newsom donors.

Emily Harris, co-director of programs of the Ella Baker Center, said, “This is an alarming signal that the governor and our lawmakers are preparing to send California back into an era of mass incarceration. Gov. Newsom should do everything he can to stop the attempted rollback of Prop 47.”

CURB’s Amber-Rose Howard added, “The budget continues to prioritize the prison system over essential community services. These funds should be redirected to offset the shameful cuts to education, housing, and other programs that would better address the root causes of criminalization.”

Howard concluded California needs a practical roadmap to close prisons that meets the needs of multiple stakeholders, which she believes can happen with common sense

“At this moment, we need Newsom to have both political will and common sense. We want the governor to sign a final budget in June that centers the most vulnerable Californians and more importantly addresses the out of control corrections spending,” Howard said.

Howard and Harris, according to CURB’s statement, urge California decision makers to learn from prior mistakes and seek solutions that do not involve putting predominantly Black, Brown, and low income Californians behind bars.

About The Author

Audrey is a senior at UC San Diego majoring in Political Science (Comparative Politics emphasis). After graduation, Audrey plans on attending graduate school and is considering becoming a public defender.

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