California Bill to Consolidate Prison Space Passes Assembly

California Bill to Consolidate Prison Space Passes Assembly

A California State Prison inmate works on the garden in the prison yard, in Vacaville, Calif., on Oct. 19, 2015. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Travis Gillmore
Travis Gillmore


Updated: 5/28/2024


Legislation that would reduce prison capacity across California was approved by the Assembly on May 21, amid opposition from Republican representatives.
Assembly Bill 2178, authored by Assemblyman Phil Ting, would require state prisons to close portions of their facilities to lower the number of available beds across the state.
“AB 2178 is a structured approach to addressing the state’s empty prison bed issue, allowing for the state to use saved dollars for other critical needs such as education, housing, and other integral services, as opposed to sustaining empty beds,” Mr. Ting said in legislative analyses.
About 15,000 beds are currently empty across California, and the number is expected to grow to about 19,000 by 2028, according to a recent report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.
“Thousands of prison beds aren’t in use right now,” Mr. Ting said. “Beds are empty because the state’s prison population has steadily declined over the years.”
Prison populations have decreased to about 93,000 in 2024 from nearly 130,000 in 2019, according to California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The analyst’s office suggested in February that the state should close five prisons, saving about $1 billion annually, in addition to saving $2 billion over the next decade from reduced capital outlay.
Supporters of the bill argue the money could be better spent on other programs to benefit Californians.
“Investment should be focused on reallocation of dollars to communities to build a shared safety infrastructure, to support survivors of crime, and to make second chances real,” the Californians for Safety and Justice said in legislative analyses. “AB 2178 helps save state dollars that are currently being used to sustain empty prison beds for opportunities to redirect spending to other critical needs such as education, housing, and other social services.”
Opponents said closing more prison space could be detrimental, pointing to retail theft, drug, and other crimes that are affecting California as a sign that more incarceration could be needed to address the problem.
“We’re not closing prisons because crime is down,” Assemblyman Bill Essayli told The Epoch Times. “We’re closing prisons because we have too much bed space.”
Highlighting criminal justice reform efforts undertaken by the Legislature and its Public Safety Committees in recent years, in addition to those ordered by Proposition 47—passed by voters in 2014 to reduce prison populations by changing some drug and theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors—he suggested the state and its citizens are now paying the price for such actions.
Other efforts enacted to move prisoners from state prisons to county jails are also contributing to the problem, he said, as many individuals arrested for misdemeanor petty theft, burglary, and other crimes are released because county facilities are at capacity.
“They don’t get held because the jails are full of hardened felons who should be in state prison,” Mr. Essayli said. “Crime is up, public safety is a huge concern of voters, and it’s causing businesses to flee our state because of the losses they’re taking, and it just makes no sense.”
With the state reducing sentencing guidelines and arresting fewer people for crimes that once would have resulted in prison, using prison populations and convictions to determine crime statistics leads to inaccurate data collection and a misconception of issues affecting the state, he said.
“It’s a total fallacy; it’s circular reasoning,” Mr. Essayli said. “They create this whole gimmick of we have less prisoners because they changed the law to make it harder to send most criminals to prison.”
Another lawmaker said the timing of the measure is problematic considering the ballot measure to be decided in November that seeks to repeal Prop. 47.
“It’s the wrong time for this, and they should wait until 2026 for this until after the voters have a chance to decide,” Assemblywoman Laurie Davies told The Epoch Times. “With all of the retail theft, car break-ins... and rising crime on everything you can think of ... it’s out of control, and this will leave them with nowhere to put [the criminals].”
She also noted the state’s budget deficit and said the bill’s priorities are backward considering the state’s finances.
“In a year with a budget problem, the last thing you should do is cut public safety,” Ms. Davies said. “And that’s what this bill does.”
Other critics said the bill would lead to prison overcrowding by reducing the available space to operate programs and housing units, considering the state is currently housing more than 93,000 inmates in facilities designed for less than 79,000.
“Instituting a bed vacancy cap across California’s state prison system would further perpetuate several existing problems within our prisons,” the California Correctional Peace Officers Association said in legislative analyses.
The group argued that the measure would increase safety risks for inmates and corrections officers working in prisons by moving remaining inmates into tighter quarters.
“Higher densities of inmates pose substantial risks to [our] membership, as well as other staff and inmates,” the group said. “The denser the population, the greater the risk of assaults and other acts of violence.”
The author countered that the bill wouldn’t jeopardize the public or the corrections employees.
“AB 2178 consolidates/closes some facilities without risk to public safety,” Mr. Ting posted on May 21 on X after his bill passed the Assembly.
The measure will next be heard by respective Senate committees in the coming weeks.

Travis Gillmore is an avid reader and journalism connoisseur based in California covering finance, politics, the State Capitol, and breaking news for The Epoch Times.

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