Assembly Committee Advances Brown’s Inmate Relocation Plan
On Thursday, the Assembly Budget Committee unanimously passed a measure (SB 105) proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) that would move about 9,000 inmates to private prisons and other facilities to comply with a federal court-ordered reduction of the state prison population, the Sacramento Bee's "Capitol Alert" reports (Ortiz, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 8/29).
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.
In July, Brown filed a request with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy for a stay of the order. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Brown's request.
Brown's administration then filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court over the reduction order while developing plans to comply with it.
Details of Brown's Plan
On Tuesday, Brown proposed a plan 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 (California Healthline, 8/29).
The measure approved Thursday would provide about $315 million through the end of this year to relocate inmates (Ortiz, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 8/29).
Comments During Committee Hearing
During the hearing on Thursday, Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) spoke in support of Brown's measure, according to the Los Angeles Times.
However, Committee Chair Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) said that Brown's plan lacks a cost containment strategy and does not impose limits on the number of inmates that can be housed at each alternative facility.
Other panel members also said they were reluctant to put more funding toward prisons instead of toward state educations programs.
Assembly member Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) said, "There is bipartisan frustration with the federal judges that are imposing this order and being irresponsible in forcing this state to have to spend $315 million to address this crisis."
Meanwhile, members of several groups advocating for social service and rehabilitation programs for inmates also criticized the bill.
The bill now moves to the full Assembly.
If approved by the Assembly, the bill would face opposition from Democrats in the Senate, according to the Times.
Prisoners' advocates and California Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) have openly opposed Brown's plan.
On Wednesday, Steinberg proposed his own plan for reducing the prison population that would request a three-year extension of the court order and put more money toward drug and mental health treatment for inmates.
However, Rhys Williams -- a spokesperson for Steinberg -- said the senator is open to compromise and that he and Brown "continue to have productive discussions" (McGreevy, Los Angeles Times, 8/29).
Brown Continues Plans for Court-Ordered Release
Meanwhile, Brown's administration also filed a status update with a three-judge panel overseeing the prison system, saying that the state Legislature is "now actively engaged" in considering his inmate relocation plan.
The administration also said that it has:
- Finalized framework for an early-release system that would rank offenders based on risk assessment, prior felonies and behavior while incarcerated;
- Identified 1,300 low-risk elderly inmates who could be eligible for early release under a new parole process; and
- Identified 42 inmates who are eligible for release under an expanded medical parole program (Siders, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 8/29).