Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a plan to move people convicted of crimes deemed “non-serious, nonviolent and nonsexual” to county jails with some of the costs paid by the state. That plan moved a big step closer to realization this past Monday, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that gives California just two years to trim its prison population by 33,630, reducing the number of inmates to 109,805 from 143,435.
The court’s decision makes what was a “prospect” of releasing offenders a reality – unless the state acts.
“The Supreme Court recognized that the enactment of AB 109 [in which a prison plan is laid out] is key to meeting this obligation. We must now secure full and constitutionally guaranteed funding to put into effect all the realignment provisions contained in AB 109.” Mr. Brown said in a statement Monday.
One of the key provisions of AB 109 provides for the shifting of minimum security inmates and low-risk offenders to county jails or other correctional facilities.
Republican leaders, wary of Gov. Brown’s proposed tax extensions (which would presumably fund AB 109), maintain there are other ways to alleviate prison pressure, such as building more of them. Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton wants to accelerate the construction of new prison facilities to satisfy the court order. “The state has not reacted quickly enough to federal concerns, and that sluggish response goes beyond any one administration,” he said.
Oscar Hidalgo, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, responded that Dutton’s plan is likely to be financially difficult to achieve in cash-challenged California.
Brown argues the state would save money with the realignment plan because counties can provide some services more efficiently. California prison officials say the realignment plan is their best shot at obeying the Supreme Court order without putting inmates back on the street.
Brown’s plan would move 18,446 low-level offenders to counties in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, a number that would rise to a total of 32,728 by the next year. The state may also ask the court to allow it three years, instead of two, to reach the target number.
About 20,000 California prisoners, including many low-level offenders, already live outside of state prisons … for instance, fighting forest fires in so-called fire camps. Hidalgo said California would study other options, such as moving more inmates to out-of-state prisons and paying those states.
County officials emphasized that Gov. Brown’s plan will only work if they get enough money to house the transferred inmates
Much of the court’s reasoning for its decision involved charges that overcrowding is a violation of a prisoner’s civil rights. Alabama, currently operating its prisons at 190% of capacity, is another state dealing with the exact same issue as California. Arizona, however, has adopted a different approach, making prison life intentionally distasteful, which has arguably seen some benefits from discouraging commissions of crimes that will land you in the joint.
–Additional source: The Wall Street Journal