Brown Circulates Draft Plan To Reduce State Inmate Population
Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has begun circulating draft legislation to comply with a court order to transfer more than 9,000 inmates from state prisons by the end of the year, even as he plans to appeal the order to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Los Angeles Times' "PolitiCal" reports (St. John, "PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 6/24).
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.
Shortly after taking office in 2011, Brown implemented a plan to reduce the prison population by shifting many inmates from state prisons to county jails.
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 their ruling, the judges said Brown had provided "no convincing evidence" that prison overcrowding is no longer a problem.
As of April, the prison population was at 150% of capacity, or 9,000 more inmates than the court-ordered cap.
On May 2, Brown filed a proposal to comply with the population cap.
State officials said that they could remove about 7,000 inmates by December under the plan.
Details of Recent Ruling
Last week, three federal judges rejected the plan, ordering Brown to release about 9,600 inmates -- or 8% of the inmate population -- by 2014.
The judges said that the state can use any method under its original plan to reduce the inmate population, but they suggested expanding the use of good behavior credits to expedite prisoner releases.
If the state does not comply with the order by the end of the year, officials will have to release inmates based on a list of "low-risk" offenders, according to the judges.
Following the ruling, Brown in a statement said, "The state will seek an immediate stay of this unprecedented order."
The governor also filed notice that he intends to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court (California Healthline, 6/24).
Details of Brown's Plan
The draft plan includes:
- $450 million over two years to lease as many as 4,100 beds in county jails and private prisons;
- The continued relocation of 8,500 inmates to out-of-state prisons;
- A 100% increaseÂ in credits that low-level offenders can earn by working in firefighting camps;
- 20% to 34% more credits that inmates can earn by participating in other programs;
- Increased eligibility for medical release for inmates with "severe physical or cognitive debilitation;" and
- The creation of a parole program for prisoners over 60 years old who have served at least 25 years, excluding individuals sentenced to death.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Brown has maintained that he does not support the plan (St. John, Los Angeles Times, 6/24).
On Monday, Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D) sent a letter to Brown urging him to continue fighting the court order.
Steinberg said that 80% of state inmates are in "some need" of mental health care services. He also noted that the state budget allocates $206 million for additional prison crisis teams and 2,000 crisis stabilization beds for prison mental health services.
In the letter, he wrote, "Our investments need to be in community programs and services, not in constructing new prison capacity in California," adding, "[T]here is only one constructive solution to prison overcrowding: keep people from coming back to prison after they are released" ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 6/24).Rhys Williams, Steinberg's press secretary, said, "The Senate does not plan to take up [Brown's] proposed legislation" (Los Angeles Times, 6/24). 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.