Calif. Officials Outline Plans for Complying With Inmate Release Order

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On Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) administration announced plans to comply with a federal court order to release nearly 10,000 state prisoners by relying on county jails, community correctional facilities and out-of-state prisons, the Sacramento Bee's "Capitol Alert" reports (Branan, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 8/5).

Background

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.

If the state does not comply with the order by the end of the year, officials will have to release inmates based on a list of "low-risk" offenders, according to the judges.

In July, Brown filed a request with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy for a stay of the order. On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Brown's request.

Following the ruling, Jeffrey Callison -- spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation -- said the state will continue to prepare a Supreme Court appeal of the initial prisoner release order (California Healthline, 8/5).

Details of Plan To Release Prisoners

Department of Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard said the state has found 1,000 available beds in Los Angeles County jails and 600 available beds at Alameda County jails that it plans to use to move inmates out of state prisons.

In addition, the state is considering reopening two community correctional facilities in Kern County that could house an additional 1,100 state prisoners, according to Beard.

He said the state also is looking to move more prisoners to out-of-state facilities.

Challenges

The state's plan faces several obstacles, according to "Capitol Alert."

For example, the majority of county jails are "struggling" with limited space following previous prison realignment efforts, according to Beard.

In addition, prisoners must consent to being sent to out-of-state facilities, which could present another challenge, Beard said ("Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 8/5).

Lawmakers also seem averse to granting a request from the Brown administration for funding to house prisoners in private facilities, AP/U-T San Diego reports.

Beard said that if lawmakers do not approve the funding, the federal court would have to override state law for officials to secure the appropriations.

Alternatives

According to California officials, if the court does not approve the administration's plan, the state could:

  • Expand good-time credits for early release of more than 4,000 inmates;
  • Grant early parole to 400 inmates who are sick or elderly;
  • Expand firefighting camps;
  • Open a new health care facility in Stockton; and
  • Delay the return of inmates housed out of the state (Thompson, AP/U-T San Diego, 8/5).

Release of Undocumented Immigrants Could Help Curb Overcrowding

In related news, a report by the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice found that overcrowding in California prisons could be alleviated if law enforcement officials do not detain undocumented immigrants who are not accused of serious or violent crimes, KPCC's "Multi-American" reports.

According to the report, two-day holds on undocumented immigrants with no criminal histories account for 143,562 "bed days" in state jails.

The report states, "California agencies should deemphasize the incarceration of non-criminal [undocumented immigrant] holds to concentrate on more crucial priorities as [r]ealignment progresses" (Palta, "Multi-American," KPCC, 8/5).


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