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Brown's Prison Plan "Best of the Bad Options"

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, May 3, 2013

More inmates will be sent to lower security fire camps, some elderly and sick prisoners will be paroled early, additional beds will be leased from county jails. Those are among the measures California Governor Jerry Brown and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation are proposing to further reduce prison overcrowding. A federal three-judge-panel ordered the state to produce a plan or face a contempt of court citation.

CDCR Secretary Jeff Beard says the plan is ugly, but it's the best the state can do.

"We can't do any more without creating huge problems for the counties, without creating huge problems for this historic realignment that occurred and without creating huge problems for the public safety and we just won't do that" Beard says.

California submitted its plan under protest because state officials believe they've already done enough to reduce overcrowding. Beard points out that realignment, the process of diverting low-level offenders to county jails, has reduced the prison population by more than 25,000 inmates since it began 18 months ago. He says the prison population has been reduced by 42,000 inmates since 2006.

But not everyone believes the state is on the right track. Emily Harris is with Californians United for a Responsible Budget. On a conference call with the media, she said her group's priority is on reducing the number of people in prison while Governor Jerry Brown's priority is on expanding the system to create more capacity.

"A major concern for us is that the governor is going to drag his feet as long as possible," Harris says. "He's appealing all the way to the Supreme Court. He's going to be delaying as much as possible to implement the plan."

The governor has support for his Supreme Court appeal among both Democrats and Republicans in the legislature. But support for the plan he presented is shaky. In a statement, Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway says Brown does not go far enough.

"Now is the time to add the in-fill beds to our existing prison facilities, which were first authorized six years ago on a bipartisan vote of the Legislature, and reactivate prison beds that the Administration has closed," she says.

And while Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg also agrees with Brown's appeal to the Supreme Court, he told The Sacramento Bee he doesn't think the plan will make it through the Senate. Legislative approval is needed for every measure being proposed except transferring more inmates to fire camps.

The three-judge-panel wants a plan that reduces the state's adult prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity. That means the state would have to release or relocate about 9,300 inmates by the end of the year. Beard says the proposed plan involves about 7,000 inmates, or 2 percent shy of the panel's requirement. In addition, he says that reduction will not happen by the end of the year.

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