Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle – most of them, anyway – rolled out a plan today to satisfy a federal court order to limit the state’s prison population while avoiding the early release of thousands of prisoners.
In the short term, the plan is: Lock ‘em up somewhere else.
The plan unveiled by Brown, Assembly Speaker John Perez, Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff and Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway 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.
“This legislation will protect public safety and give us time to work with public officials and interested parties to make thoughtful changes in the overall criminal justice system,” Brown said in a news release.
But while state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he agrees with preventing any early inmate releases, he said Brown’s plan has “no promise and no hope.”
“As the population of California grows, it’s only a short matter of time until new prison cells overflow and the Court demands mass releases again,” Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said in his own news release. “For every 10 prisoners finishing their sentences, nearly seven of them will commit another crime after release and end up back behind bars.”
“More money for more prison cells alone is not a durable solution; it is not a fiscally responsible solution; and it is not a safe solution,” he said, announcing he’ll unveil Senate Democrats’ alternative plan at 10 a.m. Wednesday. “We must invest in a durable criminal justice strategy, which reduces both crime and prison overcrowding.”
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.
Brown, Perez, Huff and Conway said they’re also seeking long-term solutions.
“This process will leave no stone unturned as we investigate what can work to make improvements,” Perez, D-Los Angeles, said in the news release. “We will consider every option from updating sentencing laws; to giving local governments and law enforcement the necessary tools. And certainly we will examine broader policy questions that prevent crime, like improving education from preschool to higher education and on programs that break the cycle of poverty.”
Huff, R-Brea, said Senate Republicans will support the plan “because we believe the safety of California families should be our first and foremost priority” and allowing the early release of so many inmates “is simply unacceptable.”
Conway, R-Visalia, said today’s plan incorporates some ideas that Republican lawmakers had put forward. “We will continue to work with the Governor and the Speaker to find sustainable solutions that will honor the court’s demands, while keeping Californians safe.”
Activists who’d like to see the prison population reduced, not just moved around, are disappointed.
“Gov. Brown has turned his back on his own earlier proposals to the court, which detailed smart, sustainable alternatives for California to reach the court order,” said Courage Campaign executive chairman Dr. Paul Song. “Instead, the Governor is choosing to throw hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars down the black hole that is California’s broken prison system. This wasteful spending will prevent the restoration of funding to education and other vital services, which continue to suffer from devastating cuts made during the Great Recession. Funding those services would do more to keep Californians safe than further expansion of the prison-industrial complex.”