California Budget: Why Do We Cut Schools to Build Jails?



On Monday, Governor Brown released the May Revise to the proposed California budget. Once again, the Governor caved to fear-mongering special interests instead of doing right by families, taxpayers, and public safety. Despite ongoing failures and shocking abuse, the Governor backed down on his  proposal to close California’s state youth prisons. By realigning youth in the notorious DJJ prisons to counties, California could have saved over $100 million. Instead, the Governor chose to prop up the failed youth prisons while further slashing schools, health and welfare.

DJJ was also spared trigger cuts that higher education, child care programs, and libraries suffered in December. Unfortunately, instead of charging counties $125,000 per youth sent to DJJ (as originally proposed), the Governor proposes charging just $24,000. The message to families: California cannot provide affordable colleges and universities, but will still pay over $160,000 per youth in prison.

Nevertheless, we were able to make an impact. The Governor proposed to lower the maximum age of jurisdiction at DJJ, which is exactly what we proposed to his staff.  That means that youth would “age out” of DJJ on their 23rd birthday instead of their 25th, which is the current max.  We believe that youth should age out at 21, with robust reentry services. We are glad that the Governor didn’t totally exempt DJJ from the painful cuts that schools, health and human services have suffered. However, true savings and rehabilitation can only happen when the state finally rids itself of the DJJ warehouses of abuse.  

Of course, it’s not just DJJ that the budget spared. In perhaps the starkest illustration of the state’s misguided priorities, amidst dwindling health care services and massive teacher layoffs, the Governor added $500 million in lease revenue bonds for jail construction.

How long can we stand for twisted budgets that lock people down instead of lifting them up?  A safe and healthy future for California demands that we reverse our priorities to start investing more in education, health and job growth, and less in incarceration.  It’s time for our leaders to pay attention to what we want: books, not bars.

Our friends at CURB are working hard to oppose the prison and jail money. Join them today!