SACRAMENTO—In an effort to address strife caused by state prison overcrowding, Governor Jerry Brown proposed on Tuesday, August 27, a $315 million plan to assist in the reduction of the state’s inmate population.
A federal court has ordered the state to reduce its prison population to a capacity of 137.5 percent, requiring a release of about 9,600 inmates by the end of the year. The governor’s plan will send inmates to private prisons and county jails within the state and outside its borders. The cost for implementation, however, could balloon up to $700 million in two years, and much of the plan’s funds are expected to be derived from a $1 billion reserve fund in the state budget.
In a written statement, Brown said, “This legislation will protect public safety and give us time work with public officials and interested parties to make thoughtful changes in the overall criminal justice system.”
The federal court has suggested that the state continue to release inmates as a way to comply with the court ordered mandate. Governor Brown preferred not to pursue such actions, opting instead to address the issue with his plan. He further noted that about 46,000 inmates have already been released early. The federal court believes that an inmate population decrease will help to improve medical and mental health treatment within the state’s prison system.
The issue has divided the political parties down the line. Republican members of the state legislature have mostly supported the bill, though Democrats have challenged the bill, with some outright rejecting it. An alternative raised by Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg asks for an extension from the federal court. Senate Democrats reportedly all approve of Steinberg’s alternative. Brown does not support it.
“The governor’s proposal is a plan with no promise and no hope,” said Steinberg in a statement. “As the population of California grows, it’s only a short matter of time until new prison cells overflow and the Court demands mass releases again,” he added.
Legislative approval is needed for any implementation, and the debate has proven to be divisive. The state legislature is scheduled to adjourn in the following weeks for the year, and Governor Brown has repeatedly faced accusations of contempt from the federal court. California lawmakers will now have to contend with this significant hurdle.
By Alex Mazariegos