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August, 2006

The California Prison Crisis and California's Central Valley

By Debbie Reyes
Mendota, Calif., community members protest a planned prison.
Mendota, Calif., community members protest a planned prison.

The State of California has the largest and most expensive prison population in the nation.

The majority of the prisons are located in the Central Valley, stretching from Bakersfield to Redding, California. Over 70% of those incarcerated are people of color. Approximately 41% are African Americans, with Latinos as the second largest population locked up. Approximately 74% of the incarcerated are jailed for non-violent crimes. A prison over crowding crisis of great magnitude exists in the California prisons. The prison crisis reflects the racism and classism at its worst, in a system that dates back to the days of slavery. One has to question the motive of this modern day slavery institution. Is this by accident or by design?

Recently, California's governor called for a special legislative session in Sacramento to address prison overcrowding. A session will convene in August to review funding possibilities for building more prisons. This action makes taxpayers wary. Runaway prison spending is compounded by the state's failure to resolve underlying social problems in poor communities where the vast majority of the incarcerated individuals come from.

California's prison crisis is further shamed by legislative reports that expose a 90% recidivism rate, the highest in the nation. With an approximate $9 billion annual budget, there's only one industry that is positioned to gain from this failed system - the prison industry and the prison guards union. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) is working to increase a budget that puts it as the largest union in the state. In alliance with them, and recorded in their campaign contributions, is our very own Central Valley legislative lawmakers.

The Central Valley is the most impoverished area in the nation. The policy to build more prisons to reduce overcrowding intensifies the disparity and poverty in the Valley and poses questions about the goal of the legislature to address serious social issues. Billions of dollars in any community, but especially in the Central Valley, could create safe and healthy neighborhoods by expanding education and rehabilitation programs. It could provide free health care and counseling, and environmentally toxic communities could breathe clean air or drink clean tap water. This is why the California Prison Moratorium Project calls for a moratorium of all prison building in the state.

The California Prison Moratorium Project (CPMP) seeks to educate communities about alternatives to prisons. Currently we are focused on the new Super Youth Juvenile Detention Center being built in the Central Valley. This facility will have 1400 beds. There are four phases, and Phase I is complete, costing taxpayers $150 million, with $24 million donated by the California Department of Corrections. Yet our communities have experienced huge budget cuts and millions of dollars in deficits. According to the County, final construction won't be until 2040: they're building a jail for children whose grandparents haven't even been born yet!

What Do We Do?

We have a responsibility to stop this project now, and to cancel construction of Phases II, III, and IV. We need to redirect resources from the jail into schools, housing, after school programs, jobs, and healthcare for young people in Fresno, not incarceration.

The California Prison Moratorium Project is building a campaign to "Stop the Juvenile Jail." Getting involved starts with giving us a call: Debbie Reyes, OSI Fellow; California Prison Moratorium Project Center on Race Poverty and the Environment, 559-916-4370, http://prisonactivist.org/pmp/.

California Chapter of National Action Network Supports Moratorium Project

The heart of the community is the church. When the heart stops pumping blood, the body dies. Today the community has died because the church has refused to get involved. The young men and women are going to the slaughterhouse like cattle, to be sold like a piece of meat. This is the new free slave labor plantation of America!

-- Rev. Floyd D. Harris Jr., California State President of NAN, Phone: 559-264-0097 or 559-803-0286 or www.nancal.org.

This article originated in the People's Tribune
PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654, 773-486-3551, info@peoplestribune.org.
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