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In California, people of color are more strongly represented at every stage of the criminal justice system. They are arrested more often than white people, given longer sentences, and comprise a disproportionately high percentage of both prison and jail populations.

African Americans make up only about six percent of California’s general population, but are seven times more likely to be arrested than white people, and account for 29 percent of California’s total prison population. Latino residents also face a higher likelihood of arrest.

Even youth of color are arrested more often than white youth. Latino and African American youth make up 58.5 percent and 28.5 percent of the state youth prison population, respectively, and Latino youth account for 63 percent of all California’s juveniles convicted of crimes in adult court (African American youth account for 24 percent).

As California’s crime rate drops and widespread support to fund alternatives to incarceration grows, criminal justice funding and policy-making must be informed by communities of color which are most impacted.

The California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) is a powerful criminal justice agency that oversees significant funding for facility construction and for programs and services impacting justice-involved people. For example, the BSCC will be overseeing the use of 65 percent of the savings created by Prop 47 and soon it will be allocating $500 million to counties for local adult facility construction funding.

Penal Code 6025 dictates the Board’s 13-member composition to include 8 law enforcement and corrections officials, but only 2 positions mandated for community providers. The Board would benefit from greater community-based representatives. Moreover, future appointments to the Board and advisory committees should reflect the diverse racial and ethnic background of California, particularly those most effected by the criminal justice system.

With California’s crime decrease and the passage of Prop 47, state residents have recognized the opportunity to invest in alternatives to incarceration and have protested jail construction efforts. As a result of racial disparities in the justice system, communities of color could be disproportionately impacted if their counties apply for jail expansion funding; not only will one of three black men continue to serve time, but financial resources will be drained from social services, needed by formerly incarcerated people and their families, to fund staffing and operation costs of the new jail.

The BSCC and other government agencies that set California’s criminal justice policies must be more inclusive of impacted communities, and create meaningful leadership opportunities for people of color.