An inmate at Chino State Prison sleeps on his bunk bed in a gymnasium that was modified to house prisoners on December 10, 2010 in Chino, California. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
An inmate at Chino State Prison sleeps on his bunk bed in a gymnasium that was modified to house prisoners on Dec. 10, 2010 in Chino, California. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

By Don Thompson
Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — California will have no choice but to move 4,000 more inmates to private prisons in other states if federal judges refuse to postpone a court-ordered population cap, state Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard said Wednesday.

The state faces an April 18 deadline to reduce overcrowding in its 33 adult prisons. The judges have found reducing overcrowding to be the key step in improving inmate medical and mental health care, but Gov. Jerry Brown is seeking a three-year delay.

Beard said such a delay would give the state time to build cells for nearly 3,500 additional inmates. That would bring the state close to meeting the federal population cap while avoiding the need to send more inmates elsewhere.

It also would give time for rehabilitation programs to work, he said. Those programs are designed to reduce the number of convicts who commit new crimes after their release and then get sent back to prison.

“We really don’t want to do more out-of-state either, so we’re hopeful we get our extension,” Beard said in an interview. “But if we don’t get that, then our only alternative will be to increase the out-of-state (transfers).”

A panel of three U.S. District Court judges has set a Friday deadline for an end to negotiations between Brown’s administration and attorneys representing inmates.

The judges already postponed by nearly four months their original Dec. 31 deadline for the state to reduce its inmate population to about 110,000 inmates. Beard said that gave the state crucial time to begin operating what used to be a private prison in the Mojave Desert, open a medical hospital in Stockton and send additional inmates to five community correctional facilities within California.

Without those moves, the state would be looking at sending up to 7,000 inmates out of state instead of 4,000, he said.

California already houses roughly 8,900 inmates in Corrections Corporation of America prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma. The Department of Finance estimates it costs the state $29,500 a year for each inmate housed out of state, although that amount is less than the average-per-inmate cost within California because mostly younger and healthier prisoners are selected for the transfers.

The judges last year ordered the state not to move more inmates out of state, but Beard said he expects the judges would lift that ban when negotiations end this week.

An additional delay would give the state time to open an expansion of the Stockton medical facility this spring to house about 1,100 mentally ill inmates. The state last week also detailed plans to build three medium-security housing units over the next 2½ years at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego and Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, 40 miles southeast of Sacramento, to hold a combined 2,376 inmates. The combined cost of all the new housing is $700 million.

Beard would not say if the budget Brown will propose Friday calls for building additional prison cells.

California already has reduced its prison population by about 25,000 inmates during the last two years, mainly through the governor’s criminal justice realignment plan that is sending lower-level offenders to county jails instead of state prisons.

Yet the inmate population keeps climbing, said Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office and one of the attorneys representing inmates in the long-running federal case.

“It’s continuing to increase, so any building would be spending billions of dollars for only a temporary fix,” he said. “It also shows that realignment was only a temporary fix, as well.”

Brown and lawmakers of both political parties have been fighting previous court rulings that say the state can safely release more than 4,000 inmates by increasing good-behavior credits. The judges have previously said the state also could release elderly and medically incapacitated inmates without endangering the public.

“Other states and jurisdictions use lots of other methods other than increasing capacity, and there’s no reason California can’t do the same thing,” Specter said.

  • Jeffrey Beard knows that the prisons are still full of over-sentenced, over-charged prisoners, frail elderly and people unconstitutionally sentenced under the determinate sentencing laws. SCOTUS deemed these laws unconstitutional in 2007 and Brown is very well aware that the State has not fully complied in adjusting these sentences. Yet another delay was signed into law in October 2013 which extends compliance to 2017, a full decade after thousands of inmates were left to rot without relief.One 73-year-old man who has been in prison for more than 30 years for shooting someone who attacked him first was denied parole last year. He was sent out for a hernia operation and the doctor accidentally stitched his bladder to the mesh of the hernia repair.

    He was in agony and finally transferred to the Stockton Medical Facility after Dr. Jack St. Clair, CMO at Sierra Conservation Center told him that he was “too old to have the stitches removed.” The frail elderly cannot survive these brutal environments where the criminals are the ones wearing badges and white coats.

    The Judges know that Beard and Brown are using the prisoners as slaves in the fire camps, and human bondage as job creation. I hope that the judges put a heavy foot on these two indifferent and callous clowns and indict them for the games they’re playing with other peoples’ lives.

  • Nina Courtney

    The inmate over crowding will continue until we stop incarcerating our mentally ill and addicted and start treating them so they can stop entering the revolving door of prison. Also we must house and employ our homeless and poor so they can avoid prison. All the money the this governor has wasted on fighting the S.C. ruling is mind boggling. It would have been better spent on re hab and re entry programs. Also until we re structure our sentencing laws and do away with mandatory minimums, indeterminate sentencing and stacking of charges nothing will change. The Governor doesn’t want to change our over populated prison industrial complex because he owes the prison guard union too many favor for all their campaign contributions

  • Betty Garcia

    The Coleman/Plata case has now been in court for 23 years and recently the judges ruled that measures needed to be taken to reduce the overcrowding well its now been a couple of years and they are still not being implemented. Instead we are leasing more and more space so that the judges orders don’t have to be follow. We need change and now lets stop the warehousing of humans industry. Sentence reform is the only thing that will give us a long term solution We must eliminate indeterminate sentencing, mandatory minimums, stacking of charges. We need job skills training, education, the ill need medical and psychological treatment so that they can integrate back into society. Prison is not supposed to be a money making entity its time to stop keeping people there past their possible date. just because of what they did 10, 20 years ago and some of those minor crimes. No one should get a free pass but enough is enough. In the words of Governor Brown ” Stop pouring money down the rat hole.”

  • Moe Ramsey

    They have had HOW LONG to comply and all they can do is a “partial compliance”? Imagine if americans “partially complied” at our jobs? It would be a much different country.
    I love Brown’s faux progressive stances on things. One minute he is a
    champion of this cause. The next, he’s “very hesitant, unsure of what
    this kind of thing could do” blah blah blah. Vote the clown out and put
    others in that will actually help out California.
    Partial compliance isn’t something that you are supposed to be doing. You either go full or not at all.

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