Four years ago, after decades of legal battle, the Supreme Court of the United States ordered California to reduce its state prison population by approximately 30,000 people. Instead of looking seriously toward cheaper and safer alternatives to custody, the state redirected a lot of those convicted of crimes into the county jail systems and stopped receiving citizens with sentences of less than 3-years into the state prison system. California, essentially, swapped one set of cells for another set of cells. This was a process called Realignment.

County administrators balked at the notion and the jails creaked. So, the state dove into its budget and redirected money toward the counties. In most cases, the counties opted to build new jails.

On top of realignment was, one year ago, Prop 47 which downgraded several non-violent felonies to misdemeanors and reducing sentences for thousands in the process. So, at a state level, the statistics read as though the Golden State is putting fewer people in boxes. But the picture isn’t so rosy, as the latest “Decarceration Report Card” from Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) shows.


This is the third time CURB has graded California counties on whether they’re reducing the number of people incarcerated and investing in community solutions, or whether they’re building new jails.

“This year, for the first time, every county received a failing score,” says CURB. “Since 2007, $2.2 billion of jail construction funding has been approved by the state for local jail construction. Twenty-three counties are already building new jails. Five are building two or more jails. And thirty-two counties are applying for the current round of jail construction funding.”


The correctional system employs hundreds of thousands of people; it has a labor capital to nurture and a workforce perversely both exploit and “protect”. This means, the system must move with the times and move where the money is. With a nation now enlightened to how racist, classist and abusive prisons and jails are, the new common consensus is that we must treat, educate and rehabilitate prisoners, not merely lock them away. As such, treatment and rehab is a new-found “boom sector.” The state has adopted the reform language of anti-prison activists, twisted it to their own rhetoric, and are chasing the increasing number of dollars being earmarked for rehab.

“These jail projects are being promoted as ways to help incarcerated people and their families–improving mental health treatment, adding classroom space, and providing so-called gender-responsive care,” says CURB.

Do not be fooled. #AllJailsAreFails. We don’t need better jails, we need fewer jails.

The highest judges in the country ruled California’s prisons as unconstitutional and medically negligent. What makes us think that the state agencies can provide a functional version of rehab or treatment? Or even that citizens would willingly trust the agencies that incarcerate to treat?



Californians United for a Responsible Budget are the best. So far, the report has received the following coverage:

Report Blasts Jails Building (Sonoma Union Democrat)

Orange County Blasted For Seeking Jail Expansion Over Alternatives to Incarceration (OC Weekly)

California Spending Billions on New Jails (TeleSur)

Pacifica Evening News. Starts at 25:33 (KPFA)


Do you live in California? Is your county trying to build a new jail? Check out CURB’s tool-kit, How to Stop a Jail in Your Town!