Anticipating that Gov. Jerry Brown will soon release a plan to expand California's prison capacity in response to a federal court order to reduce inmate crowding, activists who say the state should not spend any more money on its prisons protested at a rally outside the Capitol today.
"Money for schools and education, not for incarceration," chanted protesters representing liberal groups including the Western Center on Law and Poverty, Courage Campaign, PICO California and the ACLU.
"The governor is planning to raid the reserves to expand prisons," said Zachary Norris, executive director of the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
"If we are raiding the state's meager reserves to pay for prisons, we are not investing in the future of this state."
Emily Harris, a representative of Californians United for a Responsible Budget, urged the governor to release sick and elderly inmates rather than pay for more prison space.
"We believe the only sustainable solution to reducing overcrowding in California's deadly prisons is actually reducing the number of people we lock up in those prisons," she said.
California is under a U.S Supreme Court order to reduce its prison population by almost 10,000 inmates or acquire more prison space to accommodate them. The order has created a political quandary in the Capitol, with lawmakers reluctant to spend money on prisons but also hesitant to release criminals. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has said that if California is forced to spend money sending inmates to private or out-of-state prisons, he wants the state to also spend on programs that would reduce recidivism, such as mental health care and vocational training.
A spokesman for the Department of Corrections said state officials are looking at ways to comply with the court order without releasing inmates.
"We have no interest in releasing dangerous people to the streets," said Bill Sessa. "We are working with the Legislature on a range of alternatives."
Activists who don't want California to spend more on prisons rally outside the state Capitol on August 27, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Laurel Rosenhall