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Newsom Seeks to Close 46 Inmate Housing Blocks, Not Entire Prisons

California Gov. Gavin Newsom faces a huge deficit this spring, and he is not using one especially big money-saving option. California’s rapidly falling inmate population could allow Newsom to close as many as five more prisons, analysts say, saving $1 billion a year at a moment when he’s using reserves to bring the state budget into the black, CalMatters reports. Instead, Newsom wants to take a more cautious approach to trimming prison beds. His new budget proposal calls on the corrections department to close 46 housing blocks inside 13 state prisons.  Prison yard closures save money and decrease the need for staffing, but not to the extent of a prison shutdown. Newsom’s proposal would save about $80 million.

Saying his administration had been “scrutinizing” the prisons budget, Newsom said, “We’re mindful of the direction we’re going as it relates to public safety.”  At the inmate population’s peak in 2006, California locked up 165,000 people. Today, after a decade of sentencing changes, federal court intervention and a surge of releases tied to COVID-19, California’s prisons house about 93,000. Because of that trend, Newsom has already moved to close four prisons. He projects that those shutdowns will save the state $3.4 billion by 2027. He suggested on Friday that the forces fighting prison closures – labor unions representing prison employees, the communities dependent on prison jobs, legislation and litigation intended to slow or stop the closures – forced him to take smaller steps than shuttering entire facilities while he crafted his plan to close a projected $27.6 billion deficit.  “Prison housing unit deactivations can happen much sooner than prison closures and provide us more flexibility,” Newsom said. “Legislative leaders have asked me, are we considering collectively reducing the larger footprint in the state? The answer is yes."


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