Capitol Alert: Darrell Steinberg says he's willing to spend some on prison beds

lrosenhall@sacbee.comSeptember 4, 2013 

Inmates wait in the Roger Bauman intake facility in Elk Grove before integrating into the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, March 1, 2012.

RENEE C. BYER — Sacramento Bee

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg signaled willingness to compromise Wednesday on plans for reducing California prison overcrowding as Gov. Jerry Brown continued to criticize his fellow Democrat's approach.

"The plan approved by the Senate Budget Committee is an inmate release plan by another name, totally dependent on an illusory legal settlement," Brown said in a statement following a party-line committee vote approving a bill reflecting Steinberg plan.

"I will not turn over our criminal justice system to lawyers who operate at the behest of their inmate clients, and not the people, whose interests we are sworn to uphold," the governor said. "Moreover, the plan adds huge burdens to local government, which threaten to undo the remarkable progress we've made in realignment."

Steinberg's plan calls for settling the lawsuits inmate advocates have filed against the state alleging inhumane conditions in the prisons. He's asking the plaintiffs for three more years to meet a court order to reduce the inmate population and wants the state to spend $200 million a year to expand drug treatment, mental health care and rehabilitation programs for criminal offenders -- in the hopes those programs will keep them from committing more crimes and winding up back in prison.

Brown's plan calls for spending $315 million next year on expanding prison capacity and moving about 8,000 inmates to private and out-of-state prisons. Brown's plan, spelled out in Senate Bill 105, has the support of Democratic Assembly Speaker John A. Perez as well as Republican leaders in the Legislature, Sen. Bob Huff and Assemblywoman Connie Conway. It is also backed by law enforcement and victims rights groups.

During a four-hour budget hearing comparing the two plans Wednesday, Steinberg said he is willing to expand prison capacity as part of the solution to meet the court order to reduce crowding in the prisons by the end of this year.

"We do not reject capacity out of hand, especially the need for some in-state capacity, as part of a package of changing the underlying dynamic in this criminal justice system," Steinberg said.

He said overcrowding is due to "an undisputed revolving door of offense, sentence, release and re-offense," and said Brown's plan doesn't do enough to address that.

A representative from the Legislative Analyst's Office presented a report that raised doubts about both plans, saying Brown's plan only solves the prison crowding issue in the short term, and that Steinberg's plan may not reduce the inmate population enough.

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