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Newsom Wants to Cut 4,600 Empty Prison Beds to Help California’s Budget Deficit

Newsom Wants to Cut 4,600 Empty Prison Beds to Help California’s Budget Deficit

California Gov. Gavin Newsom looks on during a press conference in Sacramento, Calif., on Feb. 1, 2023. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

5/20/2024

Updated: 5/21/2024

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With the state facing a significant budget deficit, California Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing removing approximately 4,600 empty prison beds statewide to save about $80.6 million annually.
Across 13 prisons, 46 housing units will be shut down if his proposal is approved by the Legislature.
“That would produce ongoing savings on an annual basis that would grow,” Mr. Newsom said during a May 10 press conference. “[W]e’re mindful of the ... population ... and we’re mindful of the direction we’re going in terms of public safety ... but prison unit [deactivations] can happen much sooner than prison closures and provide us with more flexibility.”
An inmate at the Mule Creek State Prison sits on his bunk bed in a gymnasium that was modified to house prisoners in Ione, Calif., on Aug. 28, 2007. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

An inmate at the Mule Creek State Prison sits on his bunk bed in a gymnasium that was modified to house prisoners in Ione, Calif., on Aug. 28, 2007. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Though the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office suggested in a February report that the state could potentially save about $1 billion annually by closing five prisons by 2028, the governor cautioned that such a move could put the state in a difficult position.
He expressed concern during a press conference earlier this month detailing his revised budget for the upcoming 2024–25 fiscal year, that changes to state law could result in prison populations increasing and urged prudence.
“We want to do it in a pragmatic and thoughtful way, and we want to be mindful of labor concerns, community concerns, and be mindful of trends and be mindful of the unknown,” Mr. Newsom said.
Referencing a measure slated for the November ballot that seeks to repeal Proposition 47—passed by voters in 2014 which sought to reduce prison populations by changing some drug and theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors—he noted a need to wait and see how the electorate feels about the measure.
“There are proposals to roll back some of our criminal justice reforms that could have a significant impact on census and population,” Mr. Newsom said.
The governor also noted seven yards and four prisons he’s already ordered closed will save the state about $3.4 billion between 2021 and 2027.
Currently, analysts are projecting further population declines due to sentencing reductions enacted in recent years.
According to the legislative analyst’s report, there are currently 15,000 empty prison beds statewide, which, they said, could rise to 19,000 by 2028.
With fewer individuals incarcerated, the state is paying higher costs than are needed to maintain facilities that are currently underutilized, according to experts.
“Without a capacity reduction plan, the state is at risk of incurring significant unnecessary costs,” analysts wrote in the report.
While eliminating beds can save the state about $15,000 each, deactivating prisons can increase the savings by “several tens of thousands of dollars per capita annually,” the analysts concluded. Such is realized with the reduction of staff including administration and perimeter security personnel, according to the report.
A California Department of Corrections officer speaks to inmates at Chino State Prison in Chino, Calif., on Dec. 10, 2010. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

A California Department of Corrections officer speaks to inmates at Chino State Prison in Chino, Calif., on Dec. 10, 2010. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Some Democratic lawmakers agree that more closures would help the state prioritize core services.
“Every dollar we spend on the over 15,000 empty prison beds in California is a dollar we could better spend on education, healthcare, & economic opportunity,” Assemblyman Isaac Bryan posted May 9 on X.
He urged the governor and the corrections department to close more facilities.
“The cost of those empty beds is a billion dollars a year, and we could do so much more with it,” Mr. Bryan said. “It’s time to close the empty prisons.”
The assemblyman suggested that cuts to education and social services could be avoided by doing so.
“When we start being told the only way to balance the budget is cutting teachers, childcare, and lifesaving social services … remember this,” Mr. Bryan posted Feb. 22 on X.
An armed California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) officer escorts a condemned inmate at San Quentin State Prison's death row in San Quentin, Calif., on Aug. 15, 2016. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

An armed California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) officer escorts a condemned inmate at San Quentin State Prison's death row in San Quentin, Calif., on Aug. 15, 2016. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

One human services organization also urged the state to follow the analysts’ advice.
“Closing entire prisons, starting with a prison like the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco ... is a sensible step towards significant cost savings,” Amber-Rose Howard, executive director for Californians United for a Responsible Budget—a nonprofit committed to reducing incarceration costs to help fund social services—said in a May 16 X post. “These funds should be redirected to offset the shameful cuts to education, housing, and other programs that would better address the root causes of criminalization, like poverty, and support communities across California.”
Other nonprofits also agreed and called for taxpayer dollars to be invested in programs that benefit the economy, environment, and health services.
“If we are really looking at this budget, we need to be serious about the [safety net] cuts that have longitudinal impact to children and families,” End Child Poverty in California posted May 16 on X. “Why are we funding empty prison beds?”
A Republican lawmaker said he was wary of the analysts’ suggestion and said that now is not the time to be closing prisons.
“I rarely disagree with the [Legislative Analyst’s Office,] but sometimes I do, and that’s one issue where I do,” Sen. Roger Niello told The Epoch Times. “I think by shutting down prisons to that degree, it would give us very little flex in trying to address the crime wave that we have experienced recently, and ... I agree with the governor’s more cautious approach to that.”
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Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

Author

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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