Steinberg Unveils Prison Plan That Asks for a Three-Year Extension
On Wednesday, California Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) unveiled a plan to comply with a federal court-ordered reduction of the state prison population by asking for a three-year extension of the order and putting more money toward drug and mental health treatment for inmates, the Sacramento Bee's "Capitol Alert" reports.
The announcement came one day after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) released his own plan to comply with the order by spending more than $1 billion over the next three years to move about 9,600 state inmates to private prisons and other facilities (Rosenhall , "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 8/28).
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.
On May 2, Brown filed a proposal to comply with the population cap.
In June, three federal judges rejected the plan, ordering 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 is included in a budget bill that is slated for discussion on Thursday by the Assembly budget committee.
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, 8/28).
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 (Rosenhall , "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 8/28).
Under Steinberg's plan, Brown also would have to agree to drop his appeal of the court order (Joseph, Orange County Register, 8/28).
The proposal will be included in a bill that is slated for discussion next week by the Senate budget committee (Rosenhall , "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 8/28).
Comments From Steinberg
Steinberg called his plan a "far better way" to reduce prison crowding than Brown's proposal.
"For three decades, Californians have built more and more prison capacity, and we are still overcrowded," Steinberg said (Orange County Register, 8/28).
In a statement, he said, "We cannot build or rent our way out of overcrowded prisons," adding, "Relying solely on more prison beds is repeating the same failed investments of the past. We need solutions rooted in effective strategies to reduce crime, and we need the time to implement these real reforms" (Rosenhall , "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 8/28).
Steinberg suggested that he is willing to compromise on the plan, saying, "Does this lead to conversation that leads to a solution and compromise? I hope."
Prisoner Advocates' Reaction
Attorneys representing state inmates endorsed Steinberg's plan.
In a statement, the attorneys said that the plan is "acceptable" and that they are open to a three-year extension if lawmakers can agree on an approach "that will resolve the chronic overcrowding problem in the state's prisons."
The lawyers also said they are willing to meet with Brown to determine a method to end federal court oversight of prison health care in the state (McGreevy, Los Angeles Times, 8/28).
Opposition to Steinberg's Plan
Brown immediately rejected Steinberg's plan, saying, "It would not be responsible to turn over California's criminal justice policy to inmate lawyers who are not accountable to the people."
Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) said he is "deeply skeptical" about Steinberg's plan, adding that it would give "prisoner plaintiffs who favor mass release of prisoners the power to set our prison population and effectively takes the people's elected representatives out of the equation" (Rosenhall , "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 8/28).
Headlines and links to broadcast coverage of Steinberg's announcement are provided below.
- "State Senate Democrats Oppose Gov. Brown's Plan To Reduce California Prison Population" ("KPCC News," AP/KPCC, 8/28).
- "Steinberg Releases Separate Prison Plan" (Orr, "KXJZ News," Capital Public Radio, 8/28).
- "Understanding the Fight Over California Prisons" (Vigeland/Duran, "Take Two," KPCC, 8/28).