Plan to Ease Overcrowded CA Prisons Gets Sign-Off

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – A compromise to ease overcrowding in California prisons found support from Gov. Jerry Brown ahead of the deadline to shrink the inmate population by 10,000.
     The plan – known as SB 105 and authored by Senate Pro tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento – allocates up to $315 million to lease prison space in county jails and out-of-state facilities through 2017. It also increases funding to county probation officers who successfully keep felony offenders from returning to prison.
     Brown said Monday that the bill would allow California to comply with a federal court order to limit the state’s prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity by the Dec. 31 deadline.
     In June, a federal panel of judges ordered California to release 10,000 prisoners by the end of 2013 or face contempt charges. The order capped years of litigation begun by prisoners Ralph Coleman and Marciano Plata over cramped conditions and poor medical and mental health care in the state prison system. An identical order to reduce the prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity came from the panel in 2009.
     Brown continues to appeal the latest order, despite an affirmation by a five-justice majority of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011. He noted that the bill ensures compliance with the order but “reflects the state’s preference that the court modify its order to provide the state with additional time to continue to develop and implement a more balanced and cost-effective prison policy.”
     SB 105 nevertheless contains a provision that – should any court grant the California corrections system a reprieve – lawmakers will redirect $75 million to reducing recidivism rates. That idea likely comes from Steinberg, who strenuously opposed Brown’s original $315 million plan when it was announced Aug. 28.
     Though the scheme had the support of both Republican lawmakers and Assembly Speaker and fellow Democrat John Perez, Steinberg said Brown’s scheme had “no promise and no hope.”
     “As the population of California grows, it’s only a short matter of time until new prison cells overflow and the court demands mass releases again,” Steinberg said last month. “For every ten prisoners finishing their sentences, nearly seven of them will commit another crime after release and end up back behind bars. More money for more prison cells alone is not a durable solution. It is not a fiscally responsible solution, and it is not a safe solution. We must invest in a durable criminal justice strategy, which reduces both crime and prison overcrowding.”
     California has reduced its inmate population by more than 46,000 since 2006. The 2011 Prison Realignment Act, which sentences nonviolent, nonserious felons to county jails rather than state prison, accounts for more than half of that number.

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