Gov. Jerry Brown is giving in to the federal judges whom he’s fought all year over the solution to fixing California’s overcrowded prisons.

Photo by Monica Lam
Photo by Monica Lam

Brown battled to throw out a court order requiring California to reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent of system capacity by the end of the year. When the judges stuck to their Dec. 31 deadline, he asked the United States Supreme Court to stay the decision.

But earlier this summer, the nation’s highest court rejected Brown’s request. So the governor is now proposing a $315 million plan to meet the court’s population mandate by sending prisoners to out-of-state prisons, community jails and privately run prison facilities.

“The plan is to find as many cells as needed,” Brown said. “The only way to comply with (the federal court order) consistent with public safety, consistent with maintaining the reforms we’ve already introduced, is to purchase additional capacity. That’s the plan.”

California needs to either release or find space for about 9,500 prisoners to meet the federal mandate. “We are not – any of us – willing to release an additional single prisoner,” said Assembly Speaker John Perez, who is supporting Brown’s proposal. So are the Assembly and Senate’s top Republicans.

But the plan to rent out additional beds has one powerful opponent: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who controls two-thirds of the Senate’s votes.

“The Governor’s proposal is a plan with no promise and no hope,” Steinberg said in an e-mailed statement. “As the population of California grows, it’s only a short matter of time until new prison cells overflow and the Court demands mass releases again. For every ten prisoners finishing their sentences, nearly seven of them will commit another crime after release and end up back behind bars.”

Steinberg and Senate Democrats will roll out a counterproposal tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, Brown’s plan appears before an Assembly committee Thursday.

California prisoners could be shipped to Arizona, Oklahoma, Colorado and other states under the proposal. The governor did not share the proposal’s specifics with reporters, but Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Jeffrey Beard said he expects the state will send about 5,000 prisoners to facilities in other states.

Legislators have less than three weeks to pass a proposal and send it to the governor’s desk.

Brown Wants More Out-of-State Incarceration (and Spending), Less Early Release 27 August,2013Scott Detrow

  • Janet Innes-Kirkwood

    Gov. Brown is continuing to be part of the problem. The mass incarceration and overcrowding is undercutting our reputation in the world. What type of society goes out and builds and fights for for-profit prisons and builds and maintains places and conditions like Pelican Bay. This is a national disgrace.



Scott Detrow

Sacramento bureau chief Scott Detrow covers state government, politics and policy for KQED News and its statewide news program, The California Report.

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