(CN) – California Gov. Jerry Brown said he needs voters to help pass a constitutional amendment that will protect funding for local governments as part of his plan to move 30,000 low-level offenders out of overcrowded state prisons and into local jails.
“The United States Supreme Court has ordered California to reduce its prison population without delay,” Brown said at a press conference Thursday. “Realignment, I think, is the most viable way to comply with the court’s order. This is the law of the land, and we’ve got to carry it out. 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.”
Brown’s public safety realignment plan, signed into law in June, arose after the Supreme Court ruled in May that California’s overcrowded prison system had resulted in deplorable living conditions that violated prisoners’ 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.
California’s budget plan already diverts a portion of the state’s sales tax revenue to pay for the realignment, a scheme that prompted a lawsuit Wednesday by the California School Boards Association and three school districts. They all claim that diversion of tax money depletes general-fund dollars intended for public schools and community colleges.
Brown said that local governments may need to rely on higher taxes may to guarantee adequate funding for the added responsibility of caring for more inmates and providing more services once handled by the state. Otherwise, other areas, including education, may see cuts.
“The people in California were denied the right to vote on cuts or taxes,” Brown said. “Until they’ve spoken, we’re going to pursue the path we’re on. Obviously the problem here is everyone is looking for money and we do need more funding at the state level. Sooner or later I believe the people will vote for some additional funding.”
Brown told reporters he had explored the option of shipping low-level offenders to out-of-state prisons, but that the idea was too costly. “It’s more expensive to ship them out of the state,” he said. “It will be cheaper to provide a framework for different alternatives at the local level.”
Building more prisons is out of the question, Brown added. “We can’t build prisons fast enough to handle the 30,000 inmates the Supreme Court says must be out. We have to do something. That something is to transfer the authority to local communities.”
Brown noted that the ultimate goal is to reduce California’s outlandishly high recidivism rate. “Most experts say we can’t incarcerate ourselves out of this criminal justice challenge,” he said. “The current system doesn’t work.”