People frequently ask us why we choose to fight prison construction. We believe that as long as California is building or expanding jails and prisons, money is being taken away from real investments in our future: education, health care, social services. CPMP has seen over the years that the drive to build more cages as the solution to crime just wastes taxpayer dollars on destructive construction projects and distracts us all from focusing on the root causes of crime in our communities.
This belief is based on a simple truth, that history has proven time and time again: every time prison cells are built, some politician, bureaucrat, or social force makes sure every new cell is filled, and overfilled. In other words, if we build them, we will fill them. And every time these new prisons are built, they don’t produce the results people hope to see.
California has been on a prison-building binge for the past twenty years, averaging one new prison per year. It wasn’t always like that – before 1982, California only built twelve state prisons in its entire history! The largest prison construction project in the country has more than quintupled the number of people locked up in this state, giving California an unfortunate claim to fame: the largest prison population in the world.
Building more prisons has not cut the crime rate. In fact, when California’ prison building boom began crime was at a 30 year low. And crime rates today are at roughly the same rate they were forty years ago, when the prison population was 500% lower! Across the nation, we’ve add but more than a million more people in prison in the past thirty years – but was has it really gotten us?
Politicians promise that prisons will make people feel safer. But in reality, prisons are not about safety. Prisons don’t bring any of the things that make us feel safe – having people you know and trust around you, having a job and a home. The resources people need to secure these things – thus making them truly safe – are becoming scarcer and scarcer, while the resources to lock people up grow and grow.
For example, the amount of money California spends on education, health, and social services - precisely the tools that make for healthy and safe communities - has dropped in comparison to prison spending. In the last twenty years, prison spending has skyrocketed by 571% while spending on education (k-12) has risen merely 33.4%. While California has built 20 new prisons, we have built one new university (UC Merced).
For the cost of operating one prison, 341,800 eligible children could get health care through the Healthy Families Program, 77,963 children not eligible for Medi-Cal or Healthy Families could enroll in California Childrens' Services (CCS), and 336,469 individuals could utilize Vocational Rehabilitation, employment services to people with disabilities.
Building prisons wastes money that could be used on the things that actually make us safe. When we spend money and other resources on prisons and decide that prisons are the way we’ll deal with problems, then we neglect other things like education, affordable housing, sustainable economic development, and health care.