California prison spending for 2023-24 in the proposed $297 billion state budget is up to $14.5 billion even as the prisoner population drops.
“Despite the significant decrease in the state prison population, down 6.6% from spring 2022 projections, the 2023-24 proposed budget for corrections has increased another half a billion dollars,” according to Amber-Rose Howard, CURB’s executive director. “With projections indicating a prison population decline to 87,295 in 2025-26, the state should be making cuts to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s budget and redirecting investments to community infrastructure.”
That community infrastructure includes prisoner reentry services to help them and their family members on the outside. Examples of this assistance range from investments in counseling to health care, jobs and shelter, according to CURB.
But state Dept. of Finance spokesperson H.D. Palmer says there is more to the budget allocation than just prisoner population.
“The largest driver of increased expenditures for CDCR is related to annual employee compensation and retirement rate adjustments,” he says.
“The largest driver of increased expenditures for CDCR is related to annual employee compensation and retirement rate adjustments.”
While many factors go into determining an overall compensation package, the employment recruitment site Zip Recruiter shows that as of January 2023 the average annual salary for California workers is approximately $62,000. The average salary for correctional officers, meanwhile, is approximately $95,000, with wardens and health practitioners making well above that. CDCR data show that figure can climb over $100K in salary alone, based on several factors, including where the officer is stationed.
In the meantime, the CDCR plans to close the California Correctional Center in Susanville fully by June 30, 2023, and some CCC employees have begun transferring to nearby High Desert State Prison. The Lassen County Chamber of Commerce was unable to verify if people in Susanville, located in Lassen County, had been in communication with prison reform groups such as CURB.
The prison agency closed the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, a city of 93,000 in San Joaquin County, in 2021. Further, the Chuckawalla Valley State Prison (CVSP) in Blythe, located in eastern Riverside County, is on tap to close by March 2025. The Blythe Area Chamber of Commerce declined to comment on any communication with CURB.
“We are looking forward to partnering with people in any town where prisons close to help advocate for resources to their communities,” says CURB deputy Director Brian Kaneda. “Now that CVSP’s closure has been announced, we’ll be doing more outreach in Riverside County in hopes of helping to ensure a smooth prison closure process. It’s the state’s responsibility to adopt a prison closure roadmap that is guided by the needs of communities where prisons close, and those historically harmed by the incarceration crisis—that’s what we’ve been fighting for.”
Prison closure advocates like CURB want the state, with community input, to close 10 additional prisons and raze them versus reusing the closed facilities for incarceration purposes over the following five years. To this end, the reform coalition is calling for Gov. Newsom and the Legislature to create a plan, or roadmap, for such reductions. The next stop for the proposed 2023-24 budget is the May revision. Much could happen to CDCR spending between now and then.
On a related note to the proposed 2023-24 budget, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research has set up the Community Economic Resilience Fund to help communities such as Tracy, with a 5.5% jobless rate versus 4.1% statewide in Nov. CERF has 13 regions, no shock with California’s 58 counties and 40 million population, with varied issues. One that ties into prison spending is unemployment rates that are lower in coastal areas versus inland regions to deal with the impacts of closed prisons.
Prison closure advocates like CURB want the state, with community input, to close 10 additional prisons and raze them versus reusing the closed facilities for incarceration purposes over the following five years.
Fiscally speaking, for example, prison closures can cut K-12 student enrollments as parents who work at prisons move to communities with employment opportunities. A decline in local property taxes that fund public services such as schools are another area of concern in cities with prison-dependent economies such as Blythe, Susanville and Tracy. Similar local budget impacts could arise in the communities where the CDCR plans to deactivate facilities within prisons.
This list of expected deactivations includes Folsom Women’s Facility (January 2023); West Facility in California Men’s Colony (winter 2023); Facility C in Pelican Bay State Prison (winter 2023); Facility A in California Rehabilitation Center (spring 2023); Facility D in California Institution for Men (spring 2023); and Facility D in California Correctional Institution (summer 2023).
Lastly, the CDCR is ending its $32 million annual lease with CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corp. of America, a firm that operates and owns private detention centers and prisons, operating others on a concessions basis) for the California City Correctional Facility in Kern County, effective in March 2024. That facility could reopen for another incarcerated population such as pretrial detainees. CURB opposes that outcome.
Seth Sandronsky lives and works in Sacramento. He is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.