Lawmakers Criticize Brown’s Plan To Reduce Prison Population
In 2006, a U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that federal oversight of the state's prison health care system was needed after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of medical malpractice or neglect (California Healthline, 4/12).
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 the court-mandated reduction.
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.
Details of Brown's Plan
Brown's plan to address prison overcrowding calls for:
- Paroling inmates who are elderly or medically incapacitated;
- Increasing the use of drug treatment centers;
- Increasing early releases or "good time" credits to inmates, including those with serious prior convictions;
- Paying to house more inmates in county jails that have extra space and possibly at private prisons in the state;
- Slowing the return of 8,400 inmates now housed in private prisons in three other states; and
- Expanding the number of inmates fighting wildfires.
Jeffrey Beard, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation secretary, said that Brown filed the plan "under protest," warning that it could compromise public safety.
The governor intends to appeal the cap on the prison population to the U.S. Supreme Court. He also plans to delay the implementation of his proposal during the appeals process (California Healthline, 5/3).
Lawmakers' Reaction to Plan
Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said he does not think that the state Senate will adopt Brown's plan. According to Steinberg, some aspects of the plan -- such as increasing inmates' good behavior credits -- would impede public safety efforts.
SteinbergÂ said that he would rather try to boost funding for inmate rehabilitation programs, which he said could provide more stable, long-term reductions in the prison population.
HeÂ noted, "The federal courts don't have to consider the very true dilemma that if we spend more money in building more prisons or jail beds, that's less money to invest in mental health, substance abuse, treatment and vocational training for parolees and probationers."
Assembly member Melissa Melendez (R-Murrieta) said Brown's plan will result in "huge public outcry because crime is going to increase" (Van Oot , "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 5/3).
Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) said that the state needs to implement "a comprehensive overhaul of the entirety of the realignment program, which is a disaster, and present that to the court," rather than Brown's plan (Sacramento Bee, 5/4).
Reaction From Inmate Advocates
Meanwhile, inmate advocates also have criticized Brown's plan.
Misty Rojo -- a program coordinator with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners -- said that Brown is "trying to scare Californians, and he's trying to scare the Legislature into believing that (with) any kind of reform, these people will run amok and commit more crimes and that's not true."
Roger White, an anti-prison activist, said that he is disappointed by Brown's focus on meeting the court orders by expanding the prison system. White said that the only way to reduce the prison population in a sustainable way "is to reduce the capacity of the state to imprison people" (Van Oot , "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 5/3).
Broadcast CoverageOn Friday, Capital Public Radio's "KXJZ News" reported onÂ Brown's plan to reduce prison overcrowding (Orr, "KXJZ News," Capital Public Radio, 5/3). 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.