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Group Opposes Expansion Of Donovan Prison

Angela Carone
The entrance to the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in Otay Mesa is shown in this undated photo.

A coalition of housing, health care, faith and criminal justice organizations gathered Wednesday outside the state building in downtown San Diego to call on lawmakers to take immediate action to reduce prison overcrowding.

The group wants California politicians to expand parole, work on sentencing reform and invest in social services.

In addition, the coalition is calling on Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Department of Corrections to immediately stop plans to build a new facility next to the Donovan state prison in Otay Mesa.


Last month, a panel of federal judges gave the state two more years to reduce prison overcrowding.

Diana Zuniga was one of about a dozen people who came to speak out.

"Prison expansion is not the answer, and we're here to deliver that message to our state elected officials," Zuniga said.

The new facility would house 792 inmates with disabilities and mental health needs, and is estimated to cost $170 million to build.

Dennis Childs, an African-American literature professor at UC San Diego, said the new facility is not a solution.


"The problem is that there were 30 prisoners last year alone that committed suicide in California prisons. So the very entities that are causing mental health harm in communities, black and brown and poor, is now positioning itself as going to help people with mental health disturbance," Childs said.

Specific solutions the group is proposing include expanding parole for older inmates and those with medical issues and changing good time credit rules to make more prisoners eligible for early release. These are more cost-effective measures than expanding Donovan, the group said.

"We know that these are the solutions -- the long-term sustainable solutions -- to stop prison overcrowding and to stop prison expansion throughout the state," Zuniga said.

The group also plans to rally outside Donovan prison Saturday.

Construction on the new facility at Donovan is scheduled to begin this spring.