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State Advocacy Update: From Defund the Police to Defund Prisons

August 26, 2020
The Sentencing Project hosted an online discussion highlighting efforts in California and Colorado to decarcerate and prioritize funding towards crime prevention and community.

Last month, we hosted a webinar “From Justice Reinvestment to Defund the Police: Solutions for a Better World.” The discussion highlighted efforts in California and Colorado to decarcerate and prioritize public monies towards crime prevention and community.

Closing Prisons

Several states have announced prison closures in an effort to address budget crises surfaced by reduced tax revenue amid COVID-19.

One reason that states can close prisons is because prison populations have declined; 44 states and the federal system have reduced their prison populations since reaching peak levels.

Repurposing Prisons

Prison closures should be accompanied by efforts to repurpose shuttered facilities outside of corrections all together. When repurposing plans aren’t developed, transferring a closed prison to other parts of the corrections landscape is possible. For example, Illinois youth advocates celebrated plans to close five juvenile lock ups. But, there are plans to transfer the closed youth prisons to adult corrections. To address that, advocates and officials should foster discussions about community development to repurpose prisons. New York officials engaged this conversation directly through efforts anchored by the Economic Transformation and Facility Redevelopment Program. Legislators authorized the program to support the economies of communities affected by prison closures. Program staff convened community meetings on prison reuse.

Investment in Community Care and Safety

Prison closures offer an opportunity for officials and community stakeholders to prioritize projected savings on new public safety investments. The “From Justice Reinvestment to Defund the Police” webinar featured community care efforts in Connecticut and Colorado. Connecticut lawmakers authorized legislation in 2003 that earmarked $7.5 million for justice reinvestment in New Haven following sentencing reforms to address prison growth.  Colorado’s Work and Gain Education and Employment Skills (WAGEES) program established community-driven public safety investment between the state’s corrections department and local community organizations. The program sets aside state resources for grants to community-led organizations that provide direct reentry support. Other resources on justice and community reinvestment can be found here.

Other News

  • California – Racial Justice Action passed the Senate Public Safety Committee. Assembly Bill 2452 would prohibit the state from seeking a criminal conviction or sentence on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin, as specified.
  • Indiana – Black Caucus published comprehensive criminal justice reform plan for 2021 legislative session.
  • New Jersey – Lawmakers approved legislation to release 3,000 prisoners within a year of release to reduce the prison population amid the coronavirus.
  • Vermont – TJ Donovan, the state’s attorney general, opposes life without parole and urged state lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 261.
  • Virginia – Lawmakers are considering criminal justice reforms during special session.
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