California Governor's $315 Million Plan to Fix Prison Overcrowding

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 28 2013 4:13 PM

California's Scrambling to Avoid Having Federal Courts Free Thousands From Its Crowded Prisons

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Inmates at Chino State Prison walk in between their double bunks beds in the overcrowded dayroom of Sycamore Hall that was modified to house prisoners on December 10, 2010 in Chino, California

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

California Gov. Jerry Brown and top lawmakers this week offered up a plan to avoid releasing nearly 9,600-odd inmates from state prisons that federal courts say are unconstitutionally crowded. The proposal: shift the necessary number of inmates from state facilities to privately run prisons and county jails. The price tag: More than $1.1 billion over the next three years. Here's the Los Angeles Times with the background:

The proposal would avoid inmate releases while Brown continues fighting the order to reduce the population in state prisons, which the judges say are unconstitutionally crowded. Plans his administration previously considered could have forced the state to free about 1,000 inmates before their sentences were finished.
The governor is appealing the judges' order to the U.S. Supreme Court but in the meantime is taking steps to comply.
Brown faces an array of political challenges in pushing his plan through the Legislature, notably opposition from Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) and Republican leaders in both houses flanked Brown for his announcement, but Steinberg was absent, saying later that he would issue his own prison plan Wednesday.
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The main complaint from the federal courts has been the inadequate medical and mental health care available to inmates as a result of the overcrowding. According to the Associated Press, courts have gone as far as to call prison conditions a violation of the constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

Brown said his plan "gives us some breathing room so that we can demonstrate to the courts that our health care and our mental health care meet constitutional muster." If his plan is struck down by the state legislature, then the federal judges say they can order the release of thousands of inmates.

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