The announcement this week that 30,000 low-level offenders would be released from California state prisons as a result of overcrowding has some advocates pushing for reforms for those who are still behind bars.

Prison reform activists have long criticized the amount of funding directed toward state prisons compared to other public programs, such as education. According to the State of California Department of Finance, between 1984 and 2004, prisons received a 126 percent increase in genera funding per capita whereas K-12 education received only a 26 percent increase.

But funding issues aside, the issue of overcrowding in California jails has implications for inmates’ health.

Emily Harris, statewide coordinator for the Californians United for a Responsible Budget, told San Francisco BayView, “This is an important moment for California to push forward much needed parole and sentencing reforms to reduce California’s prison population, including for example amending or repealing Three Strikes, releasing terminally ill and permanently medically incapacitated prisoners.”

While California has tried to push plans to build more jails to deal with the state of overcrowding, many argue that the creation of more prisons would just result in another waste of state funding.

“We know that public safety is a direct outcome of public education, affordable housing and living-wage jobs,” noted Professor Ruth Wilson Gilmore, author of “Golden Gulag,” in the SF Bay View. “These are goals we can achieve now if we take this opportunity to shrink prisons and jails. Building bigger jails to ease prison numbers is the same as rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic: wasting the same dollars in different jurisdictions.”

“The U.S. Supreme Court decision is a long-awaited cue for California’s elected officials to stop messing around with superficial changes and start saving lives with real social investment, especially
in communities where it makes the biggest difference,” said Gilmore.