September 5, 2013

Problems with both plans to reduce California prison crowding, analyst says

The Legislative Analyst's Office says there are problems with both plans the Legislature is considering in a bid to meet a court order to relieve crowding in California prisons by the end of this year.

The Legislative Analyst's Office says there are problems with both plans the Legislature is considering in a bid to meet a court order to relieve crowding in California prisons by the end of this year.

Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to buy more space in private and out-of-state prisons alleviates crowding in the short term, an LAO report released Wednesday says, but doesn't address the long-term situation because the funding for new prison beds is for only two years.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg's plan to spend more on mental health and drug treatment programs in an attempt to reduce recidivism may not achieve the necessary reduction in the prison population, the report says.

A Senate budget committee approved Steinberg's plan on a party-line vote Wednesday following a four-hour hearing contrasting the two plans. Steinberg's plan is outlined in Assembly Bill 84, while Brown's plan is contained in Senate Bill 105.

"Even under the governor's plan, early releases are still possible. This is because there are various logistical difficulties associated with the governor's plan," analyst Drew Soderborg told the committee, adding that some prisons would have to be modified to accommodate more inmates.

"The plan could result in unnecessary expenditures."

Soderborg said Steinberg's plan to pour more money into crime prevention efforts and get inmate advocates to settle their lawsuits against the state also carries some risk.

"The president pro tem's plan would not meet the court-ordered population reduction by December," he said. "It's also unlikely to achieve a large population reduction in 2013-14 because it would take several months for the grant program to ramp up and for counties to ramp up their ability to treat new offenders."

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 – hoping 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 has the support of Democratic Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez as well as the Republican leaders in the Legislature, Sen. Bob Huff and Assemblywoman Connie Conway. It is also backed by law enforcement and victims rights groups.

Steinberg signaled a willingness to compromise, saying he would consider expanding prison capacity as part of the solution to meet the court order to reduce crowding in the prisons. He also said he prefers to settle the lawsuits but does not consider a legal settlement an essential piece of the solution the Legislature must hammer out by the end of the legislative session on Sept. 13.

"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.

Brown sounded less willing to compromise and continued to criticize his fellow Democrat's approach, releasing a statement that blasted Steinberg's proposal as "an inmate release plan by another name, totally dependent on an illusory legal settlement."

"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's statement said. "Moreover, the plan adds huge burdens to local government, which threaten to undo the remarkable progress we've made in realignment."

Related content



Editor's Choice Videos