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California's Overcrowded Prisons
Assemblymember Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) has introduced legislation that shifts the prison reform debate from an early release and sentencing reform emphasis to stopping the revolving door at California’s prisons.


The bill, AB 219, would require the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to establish goals to cut California’s recidivism rates by 20% within the next four years and 40% by 2020. The bill would also require the CDCR to report and verify those rates. California has one of the highest recidivism rates in the country. Two-thirds of California offenders return to prison within 3 years.

“The recidivism problem is causing increased crimes on our streets and crowded prisons,” commented Portantino. “Some folks believe that changing sentencing and increasing early release credits will solve the problem. It’s my belief that real and permanent reform comes from reducing crime and reducing the number of repeat offenders.”

California spends about $10 billion annually, or 7.6 % of the general fund on warehousing prisoners and overseeing parolees. With the state’s severe budget crisis and the Governor’s call for shrinking spending, reducing the number of offenders who are sent back to prison can slash a considerable amount of money from the prison system. On any given day, 456 out of every 100,000 people are behind bars in California. There are 33 prisons and 42 adult camps with a total prison population of around 170,000. The average cost per prisoner is $49,000 per year.

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Governor Schwarzenegger wanted to reduce the prison population with no safeguards for local communities or attention to the impact of recidivism. The early release of thousands of inmates also coincided with the cutting of many of the reentry and job training programs.

“Prison reform is not letting people out of prison early; it’s stopping the tidal wave of returning prisoners. So much of the current debate has revolved around alternative sentencing and releasing inmates before they serve their full terms as a way to save money. When seven out of ten inmates return to prison, these approaches don’t reduce overall costs and don’t lower the crime rate. We need to figure out a strategy for lowing the return rate of incarceration and that’s why I’ve proposed this different approach to solving the prison problem,” concluded Portantino.

Portantino has been an outspoken critic of many of the early release strategizes that have dominated the prison reform debate.


“The failure of the legislature to address the severe overcrowding in our state’s prisons and jails costs the state a tremendous amount of money,” stated Assemblymember Portantino. “A 20% reduction in recidivism for the thousands of offenders released from the state’s prisons will lower our crime rate and save the state millions of dollars.”

Anthony Portantino