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February 6, 2007 - Drug Policy Alliance (US)

Community Builds Momentum Against Prison Expansion in San Diego

About 100 San Diegans came together on January 24 to learn more about proposals to expand the state prison system, including plans for a new women's facility in San Diego. The participants voiced their desire for more community education and for action, both to stop the expansion and to support effective re-entry programs and alternatives to incarceration.

Governor Schwarzenegger's $10 billion proposal would create 78,000 new prison beds across the state, and Assembly Member Sally Lieber's bill, AB 76, would build up to 15, 200-bed prison facilities for women, including at least one in San Diego.

Nonviolent female offenders, the majority of whom are incarcerated for drug offenses, are the fastest growing segment of the California prison population.

According to AB 76, the new facilities would be staffed by prison guards and would have fewer visiting days than California's existing women's prisons. Altogether, they would increase the state's capacity for female inmates by 25%.

Proponents of the bill claim that these facilities will support female prisoners' transition back into the community, but those working on prisoner re-entry in San Diego disagree.

"If you can't leave the facility, and no one can visit you, how does that help you reconnect? You might as well be on the moon," said Rev. Dennis Malone, co-founder of the San Diego chapter of All of Us or None, an organization of and for formerly incarcerated people dedicated to ending discrimination against those with a criminal history.

Rev. Malone and other community members discussed the variety of tools--from prevention programs to diversion to re-entry services--San Diego already has to safely reduce the number of people behind bars and to help people coming out to stay out.

"We don't have to invent anything here; we just need to invest in what works," the reverend continued. "We need to spend on real, result-driven re-entry solutions, not just throw good money after bad."

Gretchen Burns Bergman, co-founder and executive director of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing), echoed the concern that, while San Diego is facing the possibility of a new prison, community-based programs that work -- like Prop. 36 -- are not being fully utilized.

"Prop. 36 has made state money available for drug treatment in San Diego County, and we have a great need for treatment," she said. "But, for some inexplicable reason, our county is not spending all of the allotted funding, putting individuals at risk of not receiving life-saving treatment."

Oliver Hamilton, founder of the Prop. 36 Alumni Association, an organization of graduates of the state's landmark, treatment-instead-of-incarceration program, praised Prop. 36 for being one of these evidence-based programs and for giving him and the program's other 60,000 graduates a chance to get their lives back on track.

"I am proof that Prop. 36 works not only to keep people out of the criminal justice system but also to help get them engaged in the community," Hamilton said. "Thanks to the voters who passed Prop. 36 in 2000, I am back in control of my life and it's never been better. Now I share the gift of recovery every day."

The January 24 event was organized by the Drug Policy Alliance, and co-sponsored by A New PATH, ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, All of Us or None, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, California Prison Project, Prop. 36 Alumni Association, San Diego FACTS (Families to Amend California's Three Strikes) and the San Diego NAACP.

Copyright ©2007 Drug Policy Alliance

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