Gov. Brown, Lawmakers Reach Deal on Inmate Reduction Strategy
On Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and state lawmakers announced a compromise plan to comply with a federal court-ordered reduction of the state prison population, the New York Times' "Taking Note" reports (Wegman, "Taking Note," New York Times, 9/9).
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 June, three federal judges ordered Brown to release about 9,600 inmates -- or 8% of the inmate population -- by 2014.
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.
In July, Brown filed a request with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy for a stay of the order. In August, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Brown's request.
The Brown administration then filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the order (California Healthline, 9/9).
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 measure would provide about $315 million through the end of this year to relocate inmates.
Details of Steinberg's Plan
Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) released a separate plan, under which 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 the Supreme Court appeal of the court order (California Healthline, 9/5).
Details of Compromise Plan
Under the compromise plan announced this week:
- Brown would ask the judges for an extension to comply with the population cap; and
- $400 million would go toward prisoner rehabilitation efforts, such as mental health care (Bernstein, Reuters, 9/9).
The announcement did not specify how much additional time the administration would request to comply with the order (Megerian, Los Angeles Times, 9/9).
In addition, the proposal would require state officials to automatically implement Brown's original plan to lease additional prison space if federal judges reject the extension request.
Democratic and Republican state lawmakers support the plan and are expected to pass it this week.
Comments From Brown
During a news conference about the compromise deal, Brown said the plan is "a lot more balanced" than his original proposal (Reuters, 9/9).
He said that state officials and lawmakers "stand foursquare ... behind the alternative," which "raises the opportunity that we can, in the next few years, find reforms and changes that will make our system more balanced, more cost-effective and more humane."
Brown said there is "a reasonable chance" that the judges will grant an extension for meeting the inmate population cap.
Prisoner Advocates' Reaction
Advocates for state inmates said that they are disappointed with the plan, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Zachary Norris -- executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland -- said the plan "reflects the state of politics" and described it as "a punt more than a real addressing of the issues."
Don Specter -- director of the Prison Law Office -- said the proposal fails to offer details on where funding will go.
"We don't know what exactly they're going to do with the money, what programs they're going to put the money into, we don't know when there are going to be any results, and so there's really no way for us to gauge when the [prison] population will be reduced or if it ever will be reduced," Specter said, adding that inmate advocates are "not inclined to view it favorably."
He also doubted that the judges would grant California officials an extension. "[F]or them to just grant an extension without any certainty that the population would be reduced ... seems hard for me to conceive of," he said (Siders, Sacramento Bee, 9/10).
Michael Bien -- a lawyer for California inmates -- said that Brown has not "[b]uilt up a lot of trust" by excluding prisoners' attorneys from the compromise negotiations (Los Angeles Times, 9/9).
Headlines and links to broadcast coverage of the compromise deal are provided below.
- "Brown, Legislative Leaders Reach Prisons Deal" (Adler, “KXJZ News,” Capital Public Radio, 9/9).
- "Brown, Legislative Leaders Seek To Avoid Early California Inmate Releases" ("KPCC News," AP/KPCC, 9/9).