Steinberg, D-Sacramento, unveiled Senate Democrats’ plan this morning in a letter to Brown and to the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuits that led a three-judge panel to order California to further reduce its inmate population by this year’s end.
“The federal courts have put us in the untenable position of either releasing thousands of inmates from our prisons early, or putting our prison capacity on steroids by renting new prison beds at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars for years to come,” Steinberg said today. “Neither option makes any sense. We can do far better, and would be wrong to give up now.”
Steinberg said his plan would “achieve a durable solution” to prison overcrowding by reducing crime through performance-based grant programs. These grants would incentivize counties to expand proven rehabilitation, drug and mental health treatment programs for criminal offenders. This is modeled after a 2009 effort which, in just two years, reduced new prison admissions by more than 9,500, with $536 million in state savings over three years.
Also, the state would create an Advisory Commission on Public Safety to analyze and recommend changes in California’s sentencing laws.
But that won’t do the trick by Dec. 31, so Steinberg is asking the plaintiffs to agree to extend the deadline by three years. He wants all parties to the lawsuit to agree to let an independent state panel evaluate and determine proper population levels for California’s prisons based on standards and practices employed by correctional administrators across the country.
The state is under a federal court’s order to reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity by the end of this year. California already has reduced its prison population by more than 40,000 since 2006 – more than half of which was via 2011’s “realignment,” which spun some offenders out to county jails instead of state prisons.
The one thing on which all the leaders in Sacramento agree is that granting early release to thousands of inmates in order to meet the deadline isn’t an option. Brown, joined by Assembly Speaker John Perez, Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff and Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, yesterday unveiled a plan that calls for quickly leasing in-state and out-of-state prison capacity, including county jails, and contracting with community corrections facilities; suspending the closure of the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco; and spending up to $315 million to make it all happen.
“Governor Brown has a well-earned reputation as a good steward of the public purse; throwing this expensive Band-Aid on a hemorrhage threatens to undermine our hard work,” Steinberg said Wednesday. “We cannot build or rent our way out of overcrowded prisons.”
UPDATE @ 10:37 A.M.: The plaintiffs say they might be willing to grant the extension Steinberg seeks. Here’s the statement they just released:
“We are ready and willing to sit down with the Governor and his counsel to discuss ways to end federal court oversight. Senator Steinberg’s substantive proposals are acceptable to us and we are open to an extension of the date for compliance with the three judge court’s order if an agreement produces an effective and sustainable approach that will resolve the chronic overcrowding problem in the state’s prisons. The actual amount of time must be arrived at through these discussions.
“We strongly support Senator Steinberg’s proposal to provide local governments with resources to reduce and prevent crime by treating offenders in the community, and to establish a public safety commission. That commission will be charged with making recommendations based on solid evidence to reduce recidivism by holding individuals accountable in the most effective and least costly way. His solution demonstrates that the state can achieve a real, sustainable approach to safely reducing and managing the inmate population without further federal intervention and wasteful spending on more prisons.
“The Governor’s plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the prison system for low risk prisoners will not make the public any safer. Without reform of the sentencing laws California’s prison population will continue to grow, making it only a matter of time before the prisons will once again exceed the population cap and prompt a renewed Court order requiring further reductions in the prison population.”
UPDATE @ 12:00 P.M.: Brown says it wouldn’t be prudent at this juncture.
“It would not be responsible to turn over California’s criminal justice policy to inmate lawyers who are not accountable to the people,” the governor said in a statement issued a few moments ago. “My plan avoids early releases of thousands of prisoners and lays the foundation for longer-term changes, and that’s why local officials and law enforcement support it.”