Capitol Alert: Jerry Brown, lawmakers mull more prison spending to avoid inmate releases

dsiders@sacbee.comAugust 19, 2013 

Governor-elect Jerry Brown, speaks at a press conference a day after he defeated Republican Meg Whitman at his Oakland campaign headquarters on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010.

HECTOR AMEZCUA — hamezcua@sacbee.com

Facing a court order to reduce California's prison population by nearly 10,000 inmates by the end of the year, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature are mulling potential legislation to spend hundreds of millions of dollars housing prisoners who might otherwise be released.

Talks between the governor's office and legislative leaders follow the U.S. Supreme Court's rejection this month of California's request to delay a federal order to reduce its prison population to ease overcrowding.

Prison officials previously said they are preparing to implement an expanded parole program for sick and elderly inmates, while also identifying inmates who may be eligible for credits for good behavior.

Brown is seeking to avoid a large-scale inmate release.

"We are not going to do a mass release," Brown told the Los Angeles Times at an event in Incline Village, Nev., on Monday.

Brown did not say if the money, if approved, would be spent housing prisoners in California or out of state, and the Democratic governor refused to discuss the matter with reporters later in the day.

Jim Evans, a Brown spokesman, said in an e-mail, "The administration is pursuing all options to comply with the court order while maintaining public safety - this includes working with the Legislature to avoid the prospect of inmate releases."

Meanwhile, a group of state senators gathered Monday afternoon to discuss the prison issue in the office of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Asked about Brown's remarks in Nevada and the prospect of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to house more inmates, Steinberg said, "And my response is there are two paths. One is to expend money to expand jail capacity with no impact on long term population. The second path is to take those resources and instead invest them in mental health courts, drug treatment, mental health treatment, vocational rehabilitation, evidence based programs, and seek to reduce the population in a more sustained way. And in a way that shifts the criminal justice debate to a smart on crime discussion."

In an interview, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez said, "We don't believe in throwing money at problems. We're going to talk to the governor and we're going not going to spend a penny more than necessary."

The Bee's Laurel Rosenhall and Melody Gutierrez contributed to this report

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