California has earned a reputation as a bastion of social liberalism, but reliance on mass incarceration continues to be a major component of its criminal justice policy, says a spokesperson for Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB).
“64% of California’s jail population is awaiting trial or sentencing as of December 2016.” Most remain in pretrial custody because they cannot afford bail. Jail Profile Survey, http://www.bscc.ca.gov/
Of California’s 58 counties, 23 “are already building new jails,” according to the report titled CURB Decarceration Report Card: Are Counties Building Jails or Investing in Community Solutions?
Five counties are building “two or more jails,” and in terms of moving away from relying on incarceration, the report gave every county a failing grade.
The current plan to build new jails has CURB questioning the validity and nature of California’s social-liberal reputation.
“While the rest of the nation is talking about reducing incarceration and its enormous social and economic costs, California is yet again pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into building new jails, reinforcing the state’s reliance on imprisonment for decades to come,” said Lizzie Buchen, statewide advocacy and communications co-coordinator for CURB.
Politicians use compassionate words such as “treatment” and “rehabilitation,” giving the impression that a shift in incarceration ideology is underway, Buchen said. In reality, additional sums of taxpayer monies are being funneled toward “lock-up” facilities, she added.
“These so-called ‘social service jails’ do offer mental health and substance abuse treatment, but they also reinforce the idea that social problems, such as homelessness, should continue to be dealt with using state coercion,” Buchen commented
One of those doubling down on new jail construction is Los Angeles, the largest county in the United States, with a population of around 10 million people, 17,000 of whom are behind bars, CURB reports.
Last year, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a new men’s jail expected to cost over $1 billion and a women’s jail projected to cost about $200 million. The county spends $3.2 billion a year on the local sheriff’s department.
In addition to Los Angeles County jail building, the Board of State and Community Corrections has doled out about a half-billion dollars to fund jail construction in San Francisco, Santa Clara, Alameda, Ventura, Amador, Colusa, Yuba, Trinity, Humboldt, Butte, Sonoma, Yolo, Merced, Placer and Napa counties.
|“New felonies can be created,
and reduced sentences can always climb back up”|
“Twenty-eight counties are leveraging $1.7 billion in state grants to build and expand 35 jails,” reports Anat Rubin for The Marshall Project. “These projects, in various stages of design and construction, will initially add about 12,000 jail beds in the state, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. But many of the new jails are designed to accommodate future expansions that could significantly increase their capacity.”
At the urging of CURB, San Francisco temporarily rejected its jail building funds.
The United States has between 2.2 and 2.4 million people in its prisons and jails.
California alone has more than 200,000 people in its jails and prisons. However, California’s prison population have been drastically reduced after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a prison population cap in 2011.
To meet the cap, the state implemented a plan called, Realignment.
Realignment changed where people serve their time, from state prisons to county jails, once they are sentenced.
In addition, the state prison population has been reduced by the release of more than 2,100 Three-Strikers after California voters passed Proposition 36 in 2012. Then, California voters passed Proposition 47 in 2014, resulting in the penalty for some nonviolent property and drug offenses to be reduced to misdemeanors. CURB estimates that the measure would reduce about 40,000 jail and prison sentences.
“New felonies can be created, and reduced sentences can always climb back up,” Buchen said. “If you’re pouring money into building new cages, vested interests (private contractors and the prison guards’ union) will see to it that they are filled,” says Buchen.
“The nation’s most ambitious prison downsizing was sold to the public with the same language used to promote sustainable food and urban farming: ‘Local is Better,’” Rubin reported. “That was the phrase on the lips of California officials as they hurriedly transferred control for non-violent offenders — along with significant funding — from the state to its 58 counties.”