Margaret Dooley-Sammuli at 213-291-4190 or Tommy McDonald at
SACRAMENTO — The State Assembly failed to vote yesterday on a bill, backed by the governor and the majority of State Senators, that would implement long-recommended criminal justice reforms and achieve California’s first-ever reduction in prison spending. Reform advocates today called on the Assembly to quickly ratify the bill passed by the Senate yesterday and not accede to the pro-prison lobby demands to water down or distort the bill.
“What does it say about the California State Assembly that its members can agree to gut funding for children’s welfare, education, and healthcare, as they did in July, but that they can’t take a stand to reduce prison spending?” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance in Southern California. “Every day the Assembly fails to act it costs taxpayers $5 million. If these spending cuts don’t come from sensible corrections reform, you can bet they’ll come from children’s welfare, education and healthcare.”
The corrections reform bill stalled yesterday, just days after a major riot in the Chino state prison and a recent ruling by a federal three-judge panel that California must reduce its 170,000-strong prison population by 40,000. The state’s prison spending has increased 450 percent in the last two decades, surpassing $10 billion in 2008. The corrections agency estimates the reform bill would save $1.2 billion and shrink the population by 37,000.
“In July, the State Assembly made enormous cuts to education, HIV/AIDS prevention, drug treatment, and on and on — and yet a majority of legislators can’t now stand up to bullies in big prisons lobby to support sensible cuts to corrections?” Dooley-Sammuli asked. “When California children can’t get healthcare, when there’s no room in community college and when we’re standing in long lines at the DMV, it will be because too many Assembly Members lacked the courage to stand up to special interests and put their own constituents second.”
The Drug Policy Alliance sponsored Proposition 36, California’s landmark treatment-instead-of-incarceration law, which was approved by 61% of voters in 2000. Prop. 36 permanently changed sentencing law to allow first- and second-time low-level drug possession offenders to enter treatment. Since its inception, Prop. 36 has diverted over 250,000 people to treatment and cut incarceration costs by $2 billion. Funding for Prop. 36 was slashed to just $63 million this year — down from a high of $145 million in 2006.