California Spends Astounding $50 Billion Every Year on Criminal Justice System; $100 Billion Spent on Prisons Since 2010 


August 13, 2020


Will Matthews, Californians for Safety and Justice, (909) 261-1398; [email protected] 

OAKLAND, Calif. – A new campaign focused on solutions to California’s economic, health and safety challenges launched a statewide public education effort about California’s extreme annual spending of $50 billion on its criminal justice system. The campaign, #ProgressNotPrisons, is uniting the state’s various stakeholders to raise awareness about the lost investments caused by the state’s $100 billion in prison spending since 2010. It will contrast California spending on the criminal justice system with the need to invest in health care, jobs, schools, mental health, crime victim services and other essential programs. The campaign will elevate the need to support the important work of those in the public health, housing, labor, and education sectors to achieve progress in the state. In addition to multi-sector advocates and organizations, it will also include elected officials and the state’s largest network of crime survivors. 

The campaign is running video ads across the state and staging billboard ads on freeways in between some of the state’s prisons, while encouraging voter registration and participation.

See the video ad here: 

See the billboard here: 

The #ProgressNotPrisons campaign, organized by Californians for Safety and Justice, shows how the excessive spending on failed prisons takes away resources from health and safety solutions for communities, and encourages residents to register to vote. 

“It is tragic for our children, seniors and families that our state has spent $100 billion on prisons since 2010, taking resources away from what we need to be healthy and safe,” said Jay Jordan, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice. “Every additional billion dollars spent on prisons is one that could’ve been invested in prevention to stop the cycle of crime, health care, education, and programs that address homelessness, addiction and mental illness. Californians working on the frontlines to solve our greatest challenges are coming together to say that we can no longer afford to spend more and more billions of dollars on prisons. We need progress, not prisons, and we must engage in our civic duty by registering to vote and casting our ballots.” 

In addition to organizations from across the state, the campaign will be supported by music artists, athletes and other entertainers. Its launch is supported by Grammy-nominated recording artist, John Forté, who has been recognized for his work with multi-platinum hip-hop group, The Fugees. The campaign’s video ad features an original score and voice over from Forté.

Forte stated: “#ProgressNotPrisons is an opportunity for California to lead by example in criminal justice reform by prioritizing families, healthcare, and safety for our communities, rather than continuing to invest billions of dollars in a cruel, biased and broken prison system. It’s a fundamental choice: progress or prisons? This moment in history could not be more important.”

If California redirected just 1% of the $50 billion spent on its criminal justice system each year, the state could invest in:

  • Restoring health care coverage to more than half of the estimated 2.1 million Californians who have lost their health care during the pandemic as of mid-May
  • Providing COVID-19 treatment for 16,000 people, including hospital stays
  • Maintaining 11,000 EMTs or 4,000 nurses, at a time when 1.4 million healthcare workers throughout the country lost their jobs during the month of April alone
  • Providing shelter to nearly half of California’s estimated 108,000 unsheltered homeless residents, at a time when an estimated 5.3 million residents are at risk of eviction
  • Preserving 6,000 elementary school teachers
  • Paying for public education for 41,000 K-12 students
  • Supporting annual tuition and fees for 62,000 university students, nearly one out of every four incoming freshmen

 “We can no longer accept increased spending on prisons when our fundamental health and safety needs require more investment,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell (SD30-Los Angeles). “This excessive spending on prisons takes away from investments in our shared priorities: solving our state’s biggest challenges and prioritizing what Californians need to be healthy and safe.”

#ProgressNotPrisons will focus on weekly themes that highlight the solutions to the state’s challenges that California could invest in instead of spending more on prisons. The themes include crime victim services, schools, jobs and the economy vs. prisons, health care, mental health and addiction treatment, among others. 

“As millions of Californians face hardships from COVID-19 and, at the same time, raise their voices with a renewed call for greater racial, social and economic justice, we need to ensure that equity is at the center of our state’s spending,” said Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland). “That means California must take a fresh look at how every dollar is spent. By investing in solutions, not prisons, we can provide a better future for every Californian.”

“The State can’t keep spending so excessively on prisons – especially at a time when we simply cannot afford it,” said Asm. Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland). “Increasing prison spending is the last thing we should do when funding is at risk for schools, jobs, housing, health care and other solutions that make our neighborhoods safer.” 

“Spending billions of dollars to incarcerate a disproportionate amount of Black and Brown people is just another example of systemic racism,” said Daniel Forkkio, chief executive officer of Represent Justice. “This initiative is a reminder of the shocking amount of resources that go into California’s broken carceral system, which could be better used for community investments that support true public health and safety. Represent Justice is proud to be a part of #ProgressNotPrisons and looks forward to amplifying the untold stories of families who are impacted by the justice system and envisioning a more just future for all Californians.”