Capitol Alert: Steinberg's prison plan asks for 3 more years to reduce population

lrosenhall@sacbee.comAugust 28, 2013 

California would get three more years to reduce its prison population to court-mandated levels while counties would get $200 million a year to expand drug treatment and mental health care for criminal offenders under a proposal Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg unveiled today that calls for settling a long-standing lawsuit against the state over its crowded prisons.

Steinberg presented the plan a day after Gov. Jerry Brown introduced legislation that calls for spending $315 million on additional prison beds to meet a federal court order to reduce crowding in the state's prisons by the end of this year. Brown's plan has the support of Republican leaders in the Legislature, Sen. Bob Huff and Assemblywoman Connie Conway, as well as Democratic Assembly Speaker John A. Perez.

But Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, is advancing a counter proposal that seeks to address the problem of crowded prisons without paying for more prison space or the early release of inmates. More than a dozen Democratic state senators stood behind Steinberg as he presented his plan to the media this morning, including a spectrum of liberal and moderate Democrats.

In addition to the grants, Steinberg's plan also calls for creating an an Advisory Commission on Public Safety to examine changing California's sentencing laws and suggests that an independent state panel should evaluate and determine the appropriate population for California prisons based on prison practices across the country.

"We cannot build or rent our way out of overcrowded prisons," Steinberg said in a statement.

"Relying solely on more prison beds is repeating the same failed investments of the past. We need solutions rooted in effective strategies to reduce crime, and we need the time to implement these real reforms. That's where I hope the Governor and the plaintiffs will find common ground."

Steinberg's plan calls on the inmate advocates who sued the state over prison crowding to settle their lawsuit against the state by Sept. 13, the last day of the legislative session. His proposal is being put into a bill that will be heard in the Senate budget committee next week.

The legislative wrangling follow court rulings that prison conditions are inhumane, and an order that the state to alleviate crowding. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an effort by Brown to delay a 2009 order that the state reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity. Steinberg's plan asks the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to give the state three more years to get the prison population down to that number.

He says his proposal to give counties grants for drug treatment and mental health care is modeled after a 2009 effort that reduced new prison admissions by more than 9,500 and saved $536 million over three years.

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