California Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing that the state close two prisons, in part due to a decline in tax revenue amid the pandemic. Over 500 California prisoners currently have COVID-19. At least five have died. "As we have seen, jails and prisons have become petri dishes for this pandemic," state Rep. Sydney Kamlager, a Democrat from Los Angeles, told Business Insider. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Left-leaning activists for social justice do not, typically, have kind words for austerity, which brings to mind shuttered schools and trimmed welfare rolls. But when California Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined plans this week to slash the state's budget, citing a freefall in tax revenue due to the pandemic, there was qualified praise from some over his decision to cut funding for prisons. California currently has over 117,000 people in its prisons, more than any other state except for Texas. But the number of incarcerated persons has been falling — by 8% just this year — and that, the product of reduced sentences for drug crimes and efforts to address overcrowding, has meant the state is in a position to begin closing some of its prisons. In January, Newsom, a Democrat, wanted to close one detention center. Now he wants to close two — and to do it fast. That will save money; according to the state's Legislative Analyst's Office, by more than $100 million per year. It could also save lives. "As we have seen, jails and prisons have become petri dishes for this pandemic," state Rep. Sydney Kamlager, a Democrat from Los Angeles, told Business Insider. "Closed quarters, lack of circulating air, and staff and vendors who are not regularly tested — and walk in and out — are recipes for public health disasters." At least five people have died from COVID-19 while incarcerated in a state prison, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; another 524 currently have caught the disease while behind bars. Last month, Kamlager, who chairs the state committee on incarcerated women, told Business Insider that she hoped that efforts to reduce the prison population, in an effort to arrest the spread of the coronavirus, would extend beyond the current crisis. Amber-Rose Howard, executive director of Californians United for a Responsible Budget, "is excited to see the commitment from the governor to close prisons." But her organization, a coalition of 70 activist groups that advocate cutting prison spending, says the governor's proposal is just a start. "We believe that California can close five prisons in the next five years," Howard told Business Insider. In part, that can be achieved by accelerating early release, as California has started to do in response to the coronavirus. "Over 20% of the prison population is over the age of 55," she noted. "We need to see the state pushing for elder parole modifications that would release a larger population of people, who statistically have the least risk of contact with law enforcement after release." Newsom's proposal, which will require approval by California's Democratic-controlled legislature, already gestures at that, proposing to cut the maximum length of parole — and thus the chances one could be incarcerated over a parole violation — from five years to 24 months. But with 34 prisons, and plans to close only two over the next three years, critics of mass incarceration see much room for improvement, from the governor granting clemency more often, to voters themselves overturning the state's notorious "three strikes" sentencing law. "I believe there is a better way," Rep. Kamlager commented. "The current system is not it." Have a news tip? Email this reporter: firstname.lastname@example.orgJoin the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Inside London during COVID-19 lockdown
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California just made it easier for inmate firefighters to become professionals, allowing them to have their nonviolent criminal records wiped clean
Summary List PlacementCalifornia is making it easier for formerly incarcerated firefighters to go professional, with a...Summary List PlacementCalifornia is making it easier for formerly incarcerated firefighters to go professional, with a new law enabling nonviolent offenders to have their criminal records expunged. For decades, liberal California has relied on its massive prison population to fight wildfires. Detained men and women are trained on how to fight blazes, sleeping in camps, and earning a couple of dollars a day. But until now they were largely unable to put that experience to use once free. In a statement on Friday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he was signing a bill, AB 2147, to fix that. "This legislation rights a historic wrong and recognizes the sacrifice of thousands of incarcerated people who have helped battle wildfires in our state," Newsom said. CA’s inmate firefighter program is decades-old and has long needed reform.Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter.Today, I signed #AB2147 that will fix that. pic.twitter.com/15GJ7Gijt7 — Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) September 11, 2020 Many fire departments reject candidates with a troubled legal past. Under AB 2147, formerly incarcerated people can petition a county court to have that past excised. "I am thrilled we have this law on the books," Romarilyn Ralston, a formerly incarcerated woman who fought fires while an inmate, told Business Insider. "It is long overdue." California has more than 1,200 incarcerated firefighters, The Fresno Bee reported, with prisoners helping fight some of the largest fires in state history, a million acres already torched. "Signing AB 2147 into law is about giving second chances. To correct is to right a wrong; to rehabilitate is to restore," Assemblymember Gomez Reyes, the bill's author, said in a statement. "Rehabilitation without strategies to ensure the formerly incarcerated have a career is a pathway to recidivism." Have a news tip? Email this reporter: email@example.comJoin the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Inside London during COVID-19 lockdown
Oregon’s governor said there were concerns for dozens of people reported missing in a state where...Oregon’s governor said there were concerns for dozens of people reported missing in a state where more than a million acres have burned. California and Washington State are also battling fires.
The state sees us as safe enough to handle emergencies – but it refuses to provide...The state sees us as safe enough to handle emergencies – but it refuses to provide a pathway to work after releaseThe wildfires burning across California have put a national spotlight on the incarcerated firefighters the state depends on to fight these blazes.But while state leaders scramble to backfill vacant positions on the firefighting lines, it’s important to remember the backdrop that helped create the crisis in the first place. This is the result of policies that value the preservation of cheap labor over a system that benefits communities and offers incarcerated individuals a path to freedom and a fair shot at employment. Continue reading...