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Gov. Gavin Newsom initially promised to close at least one California state prison in his first year in office, later implementing a death penalty moratorium and approving the closure of three prisons since 2019. However, recent calls from criminal justice advocates and liberal state lawmakers to close five more penitentiaries have not been met. The administration is hesitant to move forward with closing additional facilities due to concerns about the state’s fluctuating inmate population, the need for rehabilitation programs, and avoiding overcrowding issues that led to federal court intervention over a decade ago.

Amidst the push to close more prisons in California, Newsom finds himself in a challenging position, with differing opinions from both liberal lawmakers advocating for reform and moderates and conservatives concerned about the impact of criminal justice changes. Senators Steven Bradford and Mia Bonta, both members of the Legislative Black Caucus, support a more holistic approach to public safety and echo the call for more prisons to close. However, Sen. Roger Niello and others worry about potential increases in crime rates and capacity levels if more prisons are shuttered.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office has suggested that closing five additional state correctional facilities could save up to $1 billion annually over the next four years. The Department of Finance, however, maintains that there are no current plans to close more prisons, citing concerns about the impact on treatment and reentry programs, as well as potential population increases in the future. Despite recent closure efforts and declining expenses within the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, challenges remain in balancing the need for cost savings and effective rehabilitation programs.

Efforts to reduce prison populations in California have included various ballot measures over the years, such as Proposition 36 in 2012, Proposition 47 in 2014, and Proposition 57 in 2016. These measures have contributed to declines in both prison and jail populations, with potential savings from closures recognized by the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Advocates for additional prison closures, including Californians United For a Responsible Budget, argue that closing more facilities would not only save money but also repurpose land and reinvest in communities impacted by prison closures.

While the Newsom administration has closed three state prisons and plans to close more in the future, the push for further closures faces opposition from lawmakers representing affected communities. Concerns have been raised about the political motivations behind the selection of prisons for closure, as well as the potential impact on correctional officers and local economies. As discussions continue around budget cuts and prison closures, balancing fiscal responsibility with public safety and rehabilitation programs remains a complex challenge in California’s criminal justice system.

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