May 13, 2022


Joshua Stickney, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, 405-315-4151

Ashley Chambers, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, 510-285-8227

OAKLAND, CA – In response to the release of Governor Gavin Newsom’s May Revise to the 2022-2023 state budget on Friday, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights calls for a renewed commitment to close California prisons and expedited releases of incarcerated people. In a sign of progress and a small victory for decarceration and prison closure advocates, the proposed budget states, “it may be possible to close three additional state prisons by 2024-25.” The Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ)— which halted intake in July 2021 — is also on track to close by 2023, with individualized transition plans in place for the 300 remaining incarcerated youth. While the budget dedicates funding to address homelessness and the root causes of child poverty, more investments in community resources and support systems for people reentering society are needed in order to create safer communities.

“With COVID outbreaks on the rise in our prisons, releasing people from prison is how we keep people inside and outside safe from the spread of the virus — and it’s how we reunite families,” said Marlene Sanchez, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center. “We are thrilled to hear that California may soon close more prisons, in addition to DJJ and we look forward to advocating alongside folks inside and their communities on the outside to safely bring people home. It’s important to invest state funds in building support systems for people returning home. Investing in housing, education, healthcare and jobs is paramount to building up our communities.”

Despite efforts in 2022 to reduce the prison population, the carceral system is still extraordinarily overcrowded. As of May 11th  2022, the prison population is 110% and expected to increase by 3,342 individuals between 2021-22 and 2022-23. In the last two weeks alone nearly 500 new cases of COVID have been documented in our state prisons. 

“Research shows that vaccines are not as effective in overcrowded prisons,” said Policy Director Emily Harris. “In order to avoid unnecessary and deadly COVID-19 outbreaks in state prisons that spread into surrounding communities, we must reduce the prison population. That’s why we urge Governor Newsom to expedite releases, invest in successful reentry programs and close additional state prisons. Our state must do more to invest in growth and support instead of punishment and prisons.”

Earlier this year, Thanh Tran was issued a commutation by Governor Newsom before being resentenced and released on May 11, 2022. Tran — an inaugural Inside Fellow with the Ella Baker Center — survived  the first COVID-19 outbreak at San Quentin State Prison in June 2020. He echoes the call of those incarcerated at San Quentin and across the state to issue early releases and reduce the spread of COVID-19 inside.

We are living in a COVID-stricken California where everyone is suffering and the tax dollars going towards incarceration is hurting our state more than it’s helping,” said Thanh Tran. “I was just released from San Quentin State Prison after contracting COVID for the third time. After the San Quentin population was dramatically reduced due to 28 deaths during the first COVID outbreak, the prison was overcrowded again, sparking two more outbreaks and one of the largest outbreaks in history.

“Now that I’m home after experiencing three COVID outbreaks inside, I can say with confidence that releasing people is the best way we keep our community members on the inside safe, both those incarcerated and prison staff. Now is the time to invest in strengthening our communities by releasing more people, investing in reentry, closing prisons, and reuniting families, not breaking them further apart.”