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Neighborhood residents Darrald Tyler, center, and Mike Martzke, left, visit a memorial for homicide victim Judy Salamon on Fern Street in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, July 25, 2013. Salamon, 66, was shot and killed Wednesday afternoon while driving a few blocks from her home in Oakland's Fairfax district, marking the city's 56th homicide of the year. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

I think of my son everyday. Even on the good days, thoughts of his murder bring pain.

But today, as I read about California's plan to spend more tax dollars on more prison beds, I feel insult to my injury.

The state's proposal to spend about $730 million over two years on for-profit and out-of-state prisons will cause more problems than it solves, especially considering how much we underfund schools, health centers and community programs that can address and prevent crime.

I know firsthand. I've lived in neighborhoods that had too much crime and too few opportunities for our youth. And in 2004, my only child, Roger Kelvin Young Jr., was killed at age 25 when a home invasion occurred at the house he was visiting in San Francisco.

The killer was never identified or caught. The lack of resolution was like another trauma on top of the devastation I felt from the murder itself.

Meanwhile, I see plenty of people going to prison for lesser crimes -- and coming back worse. This experience opened my eyes to how poorly our justice system serves victims and stops cycles of crime. Instead of putting our law enforcement resources toward serious crime and investing in community level prevention and rehabilitation, our prisons cast a costly, wide net -- and let everybody down.

Too many people spend too much time incarcerated for the wrong reasons -- and aren't rehabilitated. This warehousing of people eats up state funds that could be used for smarter strategies to fight violent crime, hold people accountable and stop them from reoffending.


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I believe in accountability, but as someone who has lived in a community plagued by both crime and high incarceration, and who lost a son to violence, I think we desperately need new investments.

Scarce resources must go to crime-prevention programs, improved law enforcement and supports for survivors that help them avoid repeat victimization and the downward spiral that can come after traumatic crimes.

I'm not alone: Californians for Safety and Justice recently surveyed victims and found that they support supervised probation and rehabilitation over prisons/jails by a two-to-one margin. Most think prisons only make people worse.

That's why I'm saddened that the state is considering expanding prison beds instead of tackling the true causes of crime and prison overcrowding. And that's why Sen. Darrell Steinberg's plan makes more sense.

Steinberg's plan invests in rehabilitation, takes steps to treat mental illness, and rewards counties that use programs to reduce the prison population. It also paves the way toward new, smarter sentencing laws. I hope other leaders support this plan, too.

What would have happened if we did this decades ago? What if we had prioritized tax dollars not for longer prison terms for nonviolent people but instead on rehabilitation and crime prevention?

Would I be able to see Roger every day instead of just think of him? I have hope that our elected leaders will hear voices like mine and see a smarter path -- before it's too late.

Kathy Young-Hood is on the leadership team of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. She lives in Oakland.