Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to reduce prison overcrowding may satisfy a looming federal deadline but it does not represent a durable long-term solution, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.
In a victory for the Brown administration, the federal panel of judges adjudicating the struggle over California’s prison overcrowding recently gave the state two more years to reduce its population to constitutional levels.
While the LAO concludes that California is on pace to slip under the federal cap, the nonpartisan analyst faulted Brown’s plan for relying too much on the use of county jails and private prisons. Brown’s budget would spend $481 million to place just under 17,000 inmates in so-called contract beds.
A strategy combining contract beds with other changes, such as increasing good-time credits and expanding parole for the elderly, inmates with serious medical conditions and second-strikers, will likely get California under a federally mandated cap by the new 2016 deadline, the LAO found.
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But the state’s prison population is projected to climb again in subsequent years. Relying on contract beds will also place a costly burden on the state, the LAO argues, to the tune of about $500 million annually.
“The plan contains relatively few measures that would help the state maintain long-term compliance other than relying indefinitely on costly contract beds,” the report concludes.
Given those risks, the LAO urged the Legislature to craft some longer-term policy solutions. Its recommendations include reducing certain sentences and converting some crimes to “wobblers” that can be charged either as misdemeanors or felonies – an approach Brown vetoed last year – allowing inmates to earn more early release credits for good behavior, and expanding programs that allow adult men to serve part of their sentences outside of state prison.