On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) announced a plan to spend more than $1 billion over the next three years to move about 9,600 state inmates to private prisons and other facilities to comply with a federal court-ordered reduction of the state prison population, the Los Angeles Times reports (Megerian/York, Los Angeles Times, 8/27).
In 2006, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that federal oversight of the prison system was needed after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of medical malpractice or neglect.
In April, a panel of federal judges rejected Brown's request to end a court-mandated prison population cap. The judges ruled that the cap is necessary to address substandard conditions that have resulted in unconstitutionally poor inmate care.
On May 2, Brown filed a proposal to comply with the population cap.
In June, three federal judges rejected the plan, ordering Brown to release about 9,600 inmates -- or 8% of the inmate population -- by 2014.
The judges said that the state can use any method under its original plan to reduce the inmate population, but they suggested expanding the use of good behavior credits to expedite prisoner releases.
In July, Brown filed a request with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy for a stay of the order. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Brown's request.
Brown's administration then filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court over the reduction order while developing plans to comply with it (California Healthline, 8/12).
Details of Plan
The plan proposed on Tuesday would:
- Shift thousands of inmates to privately owned facilities both in state and out of state;
- Reopen city-owned detention centers in Shafter and Taft (Los Angeles Times, 8/27); and
- Suspend the planned closure of a rehabilitation center in Norco (Office of the Governor release, 8/27).
The plan is included in a budget bill that is slated for discussion on Thursday by the Assembly budget committee. Lawmakers have less than three weeks to approve or reject the plan before the Legislature adjourns on Sept. 13 (Siders/Rosenhall, Sacramento Bee, 8/28).
If lawmakers fail to act on the measure, federal judges have the authority to override state law and order the early release of prisoners, according to the AP/Miami Herald (Thompson, AP/Miami Herald, 8/27).
Comments From Brown, Supporters
During a news conference on Tuesday, Brown called the plan "sensible" and "prudent" (Sacramento Bee, 8/28).
Brown said the proposal will give the state "some breathing room so that we can demonstrate to the courts that our [prison] health care and our [prison] mental health care meet" constitutional standards.
"Public safety is a priority, and we'll take care of it ... [t]he money is there," Brown added (AP/Miami Herald, 8/27).
Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) accompanied Brown during the news conference and said that the plan would prevent the release of "a single additional prisoner."
In addition, Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff (Diamond Bar) said that he supports the plan, adding, "We can't allow dangerous inmates on our streets."
District attorneys, police chiefs, county sheriffs, prison guards and other groups also praised the plan.
Opposition to Plan
Meanwhile, Don Specter -- an attorney with the Prison Law Office -- said leasing additional prison space would be "an incredible waste of hundreds of millions of dollars for no benefit to public safety" (Los Angeles Times, 8/27).
In addition, Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) called the proposal "a plan with no promise and no hope," adding, "As the population of California grows, it's only a short matter of time until new prison cells overflow" (Whitcomb, Reuters, 8/27).
Steinberg said he on Wednesday will release his own plan to reduce prison overcrowding (Los Angeles Times, 8/27).
A spokesperson for Steinberg said that his plan has the support of all Democrats in the state Senate and that it would cost "much less" than Brown's proposal (Sacramento Bee, 8/28).
Headlines and links to broadcast coverage of Brown's announcement are provided below.