California elected officials on the Budget Conference Committee approved US$270 million for new jail construction on Thursday, despite community opposition, according to Californians United for a Responsible Budget.
“We’ve been opposing jail expansions since the beginning,” Lizzie Buchen of Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) said in an interview with teleSUR.
Buchen explained that since California’s prisons were deemed “cruel and unusual punishment” in a federal court ruling in 2011, there was a transfer of inmates who had committed crimes that were non-violent and non-sexual in nature from prisons to county jails. The jail populations consequently rose and there’s been a push for expansion ever since.
Both the Senate and Assembly rejected spending US$250 million in jail construction during Budget subcommittee hearings over the past few weeks, responding t pressure from communities impacted by incarceration, members of which advocated redirecting funds for jails to community-based programs and services instead.
Now that those committees' decision has been reversed, activists are planning a new round of appeals. “CURB has been lifting people’s voices that are most impacted by policing,” Buchen said.
This latest budget "once again ignores the demands from constituents, state legislators, and elected officials that have all advocated for no more jails,” said Sammy Nunez, Executive Director of Fathers and Families of San Joaquin, in a press release. “In San Joaquin and other parts of the state, community members have been demanding resources for on-the-ground support and denounced the need for more jails. And just this year San Francisco and Contra Costa organizers stopped their proposed jail plans from moving forward. By using lease revenue bonds, not only is the governor ignoring what Californians have clearly said, which is no more jails in our communities, he is putting future budgets in jeopardy.”
The move is also being criticized as many county jails are under scrutiny for facing lawsuits for the abuse and mistreatment of people in their care.
For example, according to the Board of State and Community Corrections, in 2015 one county eligible for the new funding sterilized 3 people via tubal ligation, an illegal procedure. A further 8 out of 21 eligible counties did not report sterilizing procedures under SB 1135, an anti-sterilization bill passed two years ago.
“Counties should not be funding jail expansions if they cannot properly manage their current system in a responsible, compliant, and transparent way,” said Tracy Jones of Justice Now, who was a liaison between incarcerated people and prison staff while she was incarcerated. “I have been privy to first-hand sterilization abuses within the walls of the female prison system. The license to kill a woman’s choice to give life has now been given to counties, particularly impacting women of color.”
Buchen told teleSUR that their advocacy in San Francisco was recently successful, where a previously allocated budget for jail expansion was not approved by the city.
“It took lots of advocacy but now San Francisco won’t be building new jails,” she said.