Prop. 5 Cuts Prison Costs, Improves Budget Outlook

Press Release October 30, 2008
Media Contact

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli at (213) 291-4190 or Tommy McDonald at

Governor Schwarzenegger has called a special legislative session on November 5 to try to shore up a multi-billion-dollar budget deficit. Advocates of treatment-not-incarceration call on voters to get a head start by passing Proposition 5 on November 4.

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy campaign manager for Yes on 5, said, “Our Governor ought to be ashamed of himself for going after schools. Prison spending is out of control, but he’s opposing the only reform that would actually cut state prison costs and prevent billions in new prison construction.”

Advocates accuse the governor of abdicating his responsibility and relying on a federal take-over to solve the prison problem. On November 17, a federal court will consider putting the entire $10-billion-a-year prison system under receivership. That would give the court authority to solve prison overcrowding on its own, using state tax dollars.

In 1999, California spent $4 billion on prisons. The 2008-09 budget sets aside $10 billion for the prison system. That spending is projected to reach $15 billion by just 2011.

Dooley-Sammuli continued, “The court has already taken the prison’s medical system under federal receivership and costs are spiraling out of control. If the state doesn’t get its house in order now and the feds take over, this crisis will get even more costly.”

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), Prop. 5 will cut prison construction costs by at least $2.5 billion. With $2.5 billion, the state could fund: 37,500 elementary schoolteacher salaries; healthcare for 2 million California children without health insurance; nursing home care for nearly 95,000 elderly persons on Medi-Cal; and funding equal to 250% of all state firefighting efforts.

The LAO calculates that Prop. 5 will reduce the state prison population by at least 18,000 and the number of people on parole by 22,000. Overall, the LAO calculates that Prop. 5 will generate “savings potentially exceeding $1 billion annually on corrections operations.” Annual costs for Prop. 5 rehabilitation programs could eventually grow to $1 billion, says the LAO — making Prop. 5 cost-neutral on an annual basis.

By reducing the number of nonviolent offenders behind bars and on parole, Prop. 5 will slow California’s skyrocketing prison growth — which is currently increasing at three times the rate of the general adult population.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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