Analyst Identifies Problems With Prison Plans by Brown, Steinberg
Separate plans proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and California Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) might not be viable options to comply with a federal court-ordered reduction of the state prison population, according to a report released Wednesday by the Legislative Analyst's Office, the Sacramento Bee reports (Rosenhall, Sacramento Bee, 9/5).
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.
In June, three federal judges ordered Brown to release about 9,600 inmates -- or 8% of the inmate population -- by 2014.
Details of Brown's Plan
In late August, Brown proposed a plan to reduce prison crowding that 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; and
- Suspend the planned closure of a rehabilitation center in Norco.
The plan received support from some state lawmakers -- including Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) -- as well as district attorneys, police chiefs, county sheriffs, prison guards and other groups.
The measure would provide about $315 million through the end of this year to relocate inmates (California Healthline, 8/30).
Details of Steinberg's Plan
Under Steinberg's plan, California would ask for three more years to comply with the reduction order in exchange for:
- Spending $200 million annually to expand drug treatment and mental health services for prisoners;
- Creating an Advisory Commission on Public Safety to examine the state's sentencing laws; and
- Using an independent state panel to determine the appropriate prison population in the state based on nationwide practices.
Under Steinberg's plan, Brown also would have to agree to drop a U.S. Supreme Court appeal of the court order (California Healthline, 8/29).
Details of Analysts' Report
During a state Senate Budget Committee hearing on Wednesday, Analyst Drew Soderborg said Brown's plan does not include a long-term solution to prison overcrowding. Brown's proposal could result in early releases and unnecessary expenditures because of "various logistical difficulties" associated with the plan, he added (Sacramento Bee, 9/5).
Soderborg's report estimated that after two years of implementing Brown's plan, California's prison population still would be about 8,800 inmates more than the court-ordered limit. In addition, the report said that the Brown administration could have inaccurately measured the cost of the plan (St. John, "PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 9/4).
Meanwhile, Soderborg said Steinberg's plan "would not meet the court-ordered population reduction by December" and is "unlikely to achieve a large population reduction in 2013-2014 because it would take several months for the grant program to ramp up and for counties to ramp up their ability to treat new offenders" (Sacramento Bee, 9/5).
The report estimates that it could take more than five years under Steinberg's plan to cut prison admissions by a fifth to meet the required population targets ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 9/4).
Committee Advances Steinberg's Plan
Following testimony from Soderborg and other stakeholders, the budget committee advanced Steinberg's plan on a party-line vote, with Republicans opposing the measure.
Several lawmakers urged Brown and legislative leaders to develop a compromise plan.
Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) said that Brown and Steinberg should "blend these proposals," adding, "I think we can come together with a solution."
Meanwhile, Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) said Brown should call a special session to develop a compromise plan.
Steinberg has said he is open to a compromise plan that would include greater spending on rehabilitation programs and increased capacity, especially if leased cells mainly were located within the state (Thompson, AP/U-T San Diego, 9/4).
Steinberg said that in the meantime the administration "could ask for an extension consistent with the Senate Democrats' plan," adding, "There's no excuse for not trying" (Herdt, Ventura County Star, 9/4).
Following the committee's approval of Steinberg's plan, Brown released a statement calling the proposal "an inmate release plan by another name, totally dependent on an illusory legal settlement."
Brown said, "I will not turn over our criminal justice system to lawyers who operate at the behest of their inmate clients, and not the people."
He added that Steinberg's plan "adds huge burdens to local government, which threaten to undo the remarkable progress we've made in realignment" (Rosenhall, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 9/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.