May Revision Reduces Reliance on Out-of-State Private Prisons, Lacks Long-Term Solution to Prison Crisis

Released by Governor Jerry Brown last week, the May Revision to the 2015-16 state budget would reduce the use of out-of-state private prisons, vacating about 4,000 beds by June 2016 and providing for General Fund savings of $73.3 million in 2015-16. This shift away from out-of-state prisons would be a welcome move that should benefit incarcerated Californians and their families, although the Administration has not yet made it part of a larger vision for improving California’s corrections system.

The use of private prisons located outside of California poses a number of serious issues. Approximately 8,100 Californians are currently serving their sentences in private prisons in Arizona, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. These out-of-state facilities — operated by the Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) — came under scrutiny by the Office of the Inspector General in 2010 for poor staffing, inadequate access to education and rehabilitative programs, lapses in security, dangerous facility conditions, and denial of visitation rights.

Additionally, housing incarcerated Californians in other states harms families by creating significant geographical barriers to visitation. Family visitation not only helps foster individual well-being during incarceration, but also reduces the likelihood of reoffending following release. So by bringing people who are incarcerated geographically closer to their families, decreased use of out-of-state prisons could improve public safety.

Despite reflecting a reduced reliance on out-of-state prisons — generally a step in the right direction — the May Revision does not offer a broader long-term vision for ending California’s overreliance on incarceration and, in turn, reducing overcrowding in our state’s prisons. The Administration’s updated projections show that while Proposition 47 has significantly reduced the prison population, without further sentencing changes the prison population could rise again and exceed the court-ordered limit by 2017-18. According to the May Revision, the Administration will develop a long-term plan for meeting the prison population threshold in a sustainable way — but not until the 2016-17 budget.

Selena Teji