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Sunday, May 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California Prison Cuts Producing Early Results

(CN) - A recently adopted measure to reducing overcrowded California prisons has put the state on the path to saving billions, Gov. Jerry Brown said.

California passed the realignment plan, which took effect on Oct. 1, 2011, shortly after the Supreme Court ruled that the overcrowded prison system had resulted in deplorable living conditions that violated inmates' constitutional rights.

"Overcrowding has overtaken the limited resources of prison staff; imposed demands well beyond the capacity of medical and mental health facilities; and created unsanitary and unsafe conditions that make progress in the provision of care difficult or impossible to achieve," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.

The state's corrections budget moreover had ballooned from $5 billion to more than $9 billion in the span of a decade.

By moving 30,000 low-level offenders out of overcrowded prisons and into local jails, Brown said the realignment plan would "ease prison crowding and reduce the department's budget by 18 percent."

At a September 2011 press conference, Brown called realignment "the most viable way to comply with the court's order."

"It's not trouble-free, but, from everything I can tell, this is a viable plan that, as we work together, will not only ensure public safety but fix a prison system that has been profoundly dysfunctional for decades," he said.

And the state is already seeing results, according to a 244-page report released Monday titled "The Future of California Corrections: A Blueprint to Save Billions of Dollars, End Federal Court Oversight, and Improve the Prison System."

"In the six months that realignment has been in effect, the state prison population has dropped considerably - by approximately 22,000 inmates," the report states. "This reduction in population is laying the groundwork for sustainable solutions. But realignment alone cannot fully satisfy the Supreme Court's order or meet the department's other multi-faceted challenges."

The report goes on to describe how California can use these new savings to put $30 billion in education health care, and other "critical services" over the next decade.

California's next steps include ending expensive contracts with out-of-state prison facilities, replacing ratio-driven staffing with a standardized model and distributing inmates more evenly across facilities.

The report also describes improving inmate access to rehabilitation programs, and placing at least 70 percent of the population "in programs consistent with their academic and rehabilitative needs."

"The population reduction brought on by realignment has improved the ability to provide quality health care, created the flexibility to implement new policies that will improve offender management, and increased opportunities for rehabilitative programming to reduce recidivism," the report states.

"To effectively implement these policies the department has reevaluated its entire operation, and set forth a plan to complete necessary facility improvements and redistribute resources to ensure safe operations."

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