California's Prison Emergency


Everybody wants to live in a safe community. We all want to live in neighborhoods that are secure and thriving. And we all get concerned when our public safety feels threatened.

But Governor Jerry Brown is using public safety as a sorry excuse to get out of court-ordered reductions to California’s prison population. Just last week, the Governor asked federal judges to lift the court order declaring that prison overcrowding must be addressed in order to provide adequate medical and mental health care.  The United States Supreme has warned that the overcrowded conditions of California’s prisons leads to "needless suffering and death."

Gov. Brown even went so far in defending his refusal to deal with overcrowding by saying, "The prison emergency is over in California."

This could not be farther from the truth.

The state’s prisons are still alarmingly overcrowded.  The court orders the state to reduced the prison population to approximately 110,000-115,000 inmates.  As of Jan 2013, we are at 122,940 which is approximately 145% capacity.  Some of the prisons are still at 180% of capacity and the mens' portion of the Chowchilla prison is at 300%.

These overcrowded prisons represent the reckless spending of taxpayer dollars on inhumane conditions that fail to rehabilitate people.

The Governor’s new budget proposal actually increases prison spending by $250 million. This would include a $52 million General Fund increase, bringing the total amount squandered on prisons to over $11 billion a year.

As long as we continue to spend billions on failed approaches, we won’t be able to afford the vital resources that actually set up youth and families for success. We all know that we need to invest in schools, job training programs, and funds for business innovation at local and regional levels.

The financially and morally correct course is to continue to reduce California’s prison population. We don’t have to stand by while Governor Brown plays politics with public safety and continues to waste our resources on a failed, abusive prison system.

In 2013, from California to Florida, we have a huge opportunity nationwide to tackle our senselessly high incarceration rate. Budget cuts and the economic recession demand that states and communities realign our spending priorities. Our focus should be to truly end not just California's but our whole country's prison emergency. 

Cutting the wasted resources spent on jails, prisons, and detention centers has never made more fiscal or moral sense. I hope that Governor Brown will revisit his approach to overcrowding and allow our State to be a leader on this crucial issue.