Politics, government and public life for Southern California

As prison plan moves ahead, opponents keep up the protests

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A group of Los Angeles area inmate rights activists gathered outside the Reagan State Office Building in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday to rally against Governor Brown’s prison plan, even as the state legislature moved towards approval.

“We will continue to raise strong concerns around any budget raid that will go towards funding prisons at the expense of rebuilding other services and programs, including early child care and education,” said Martin Castro, president and CEO of the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation and chair of the L.A. Child Care Alliance.

Under a compromise between Brown and State Senate Democrats, California will start sending more than 6,000 prison inmates to private facilities out of state at the end of the year unless a federal court lifts an order to reduce overcrowding. If judges agree to postpone or ease their order, Brown will spend more money on rehabilitation programs that could reduce recidivism rates. 

The cost to send prisoners out of state and to private facilities and jails in California tops $700 million over two years. Much of the money would likely come from a $1 billion reserve fund in the state budget.

Inmate rights activists say sending prisoners out of state would hurt their chances at rehabilitation and damage family ties.

“I feel devastated at the thought of my husband being sent so far away from me when we already struggle to afford to see each other,” said Taina Vargas-Edmond, whose husband is serving a 10-year sentence for staging an armed robbery.

“I am enraged that Jerry Brown feels he has a right to try and destroy my family,” she said in a statement. “If he really wanted to protect public safety, he would keep California inmates in their rehabilitative programs here and help keep their family support structures strong.”

If the federal court sticks to its order that California reduce its prison population by the end of the year, Brown also plans to transfer about 4,000 inmates to private facilities and local jails within the state.

The State Assembly unanimously approved his plan (SB105) Wednesday. The State Senate is expected to approve it this week as well.  It’s unclear when a federal court will consider whether to lift the overcrowding order.

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