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On January 10, Governor Brown released his budget proposal for the 2018 – 19 fiscal year, which included a $125 million increase in spending for the state’s prison system, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The proposed spending will support facility upgrades, new mental health treatment beds, additional rehabilitative programs in adult institutions, and a young adult pilot at the Division of Juvenile Justice. Notably, the Department of Finance projects a 2.2 percent decline in the prison population in the coming fiscal year due in large part to the implementation of Proposition 57, which is expanding credit earning for individuals in prison and extending early parole opportunities to those imprisoned for nonviolent offenses.

Proposition 57, which passed with overwhelming voter support in November 2016, will advance the gains of Assembly Bill (AB) 109 and Proposition 47, which brought an end to unconstitutional overcrowding in California prisons while maintaining historically low levels of crime. In fiscal year 2018 – 19, the administration expects a reduction of 2,905 in the prison population, but an increase of 2,502 in the number of individuals on parole, due primarily to Prop 57 releases from prison.

Reductions in the prison population led by recent reforms have made it possible for California to suspend some of the costly emergency measures put in place to halt overcrowding. For example, approximately 3 percent of the California prison population, or 4,284 individuals, are currently imprisoned in out-of-state private prison facilities. At the height of the overcrowding crisis, California entered into contracts with facilities in other US states, including Arizona and Mississippi, in an attempt to quickly reduce populations at state-run prisons. Now, in his 2018 – 19 budget proposal, Governor Brown has pledged to return all inmates from out-of-state correctional facilities by the fall of 2019, a reform made possible through the success of AB 109, Prop 47, Prop 57, and other sentencing laws.

However, California has missed an opportunity to further reduce investment in its prison system due to CDCR’s reluctant implementation of Prop 57. In 2017, CDCR developed regulations that contradict the principles of Prop 57 and the intent of its supporters by placing restrictions on credit earning and exempting those with nonviolent third strikes from early parole eligibility. The existing regulations hinder reductions in the prison population and limit the number of individuals who will benefit from rehabilitative opportunities. Though the Governor’s budget proposal expands funding for rehabilitative programs in California prisons, the direct benefits of program participation will remain limited to those who can earn credits towards release under the narrow CDCR regulations.

Durable public safety depends on real prison reform, which must include both a decrease in the number of new commitments to state custody and an expansion of early releases. Only through deep reductions in the size of our correctional system can we generate the savings needed to reinvest in the communities most impacted by mass incarceration. Shifting California’s criminal justice priorities from punishment to prevention starts with the state budget. In fiscal year 2018 – 19, state leaders must commit to preserving and expanding successful sentencing reforms, including AB 109, Prop 47, and Prop 57, and redirecting taxpayer dollars to what works: community-based treatment, education, healthcare, and social services. 

Related Links:

2018 – 19 Budget Proposal Would Expand California’s Youth Correctional System at a Time of Falling Populations

Most California Jurisdictions Show Declines in Property Crime During Justice Reform Era

CDCR Drafts Prop 57 Regulations that Undercut the Initiative