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  • New jail construction is already underway in 23 California counties.

    New jail construction is already underway in 23 California counties. | Photo: Sean Hobson

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The move comes despite the fact that the state’s jail population fell by 8,600 people over the last year.

A California agency has awarded US$500 million in financing that will allow more than a dozen counties to expand existing jails and construct new ones, despite an 11 percent drop in the state’s jail population over the last year.

The California Board of State and Community Corrections on Monday awarded the money to 15 counties out of a total of 32 that had submitted funding proposals for jail construction, according to the East Bay Express.

Much of the funding is set to go to Northern California, generally perceived as the more liberal half of state. The counties of San Francisco and Santa Clara are each set to receive US$80 million, while Alameda County was awarded US$54.3 million.

The move has been decried by activists opposed to mass incarceration in California, which is second only to Texas in the number of people it keeps behind bars.

“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, advocacy co-coordinator for the group Californians United for a Responsible Budget.

In October, CURB issued a report noting that California is set to spend billions of dollars on new jail construction despite a declining jail population.

“If you're pouring money into building new cages, vested interests will see to it that they are filled,” Buchen told teleSUR at the time.

Out of California’s 58 counties, 23 are already building new jails. Five are currently building two or more.

The construction boom comes despite the fact that California voters overwhelmingly approved a measure in November 2014 that reduced the penalty for most low-level drug and property crimes. Since then, California’s jail population has dropped by 11 percent, according to The Sacramento Bee. Roughly 180,000 people are still under state custody.

A final vote on the jail funding will be held Nov. 12.

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