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Brown Presents Plan to Ease Prison Overcrowding

Katie Orr, Capital Public Radio

California Governor Jerry Brown, surrounded by legislative leaders and supporters, presents his plan to reduce prison overcrowding on August 27, 2013.

Katie Orr, Capital Public Radio

Brown has made it clear he doesn’t think California needs to do any more to ease prison overcrowding. He notes the inmate population has dropped by 45,000 since 2006. But multiple federal judges have not been convinced and have repeatedly ordered the state to further reduce overcrowding. That could happen by releasing inmates or finding more space.

Brown chose finding more space. He said it was really his only option.

“The only way to comply with that, consistent with public safety, consistent with maintaining the reforms we’ve already introduced is to purchase additional capacity," he said. "That’s the plan.”

The initial cost of Brown’s plan will be $315 million to lease additional cell space. About 8,000 inmates will be transferred from state prisons to other facilities in California and several other states. Brown estimates the ultimate cost will be in the billions.

Still, he has a lot of supporters in the legislature. The Republican leaders of the Senate and the Assembly back his plan. So does Democratic Assembly Speaker John Perez.

“We are not, any of us, willing to release an additional single prisoner,” Perez said.

But one key supporter is missing, Democratic Senate President Darrel Steinberg. In a statement he said he does not support releasing inmates early either. But he said Brown's plan offers no promis or hime.

“More money for more prison cells alone is not a durable solution; it is not a fiscally responsible solution; and it is not a safe solution," he said. “We must invest in a durable criminal justice strategy, which reduces both crime and prison overcrowding.”

Without Steinberg's support, it may be tough to get the plan through the legislature. Still, Perez vows it will be passed by the time the session ends in Mid-September.

Governor's Plan Runs Into Resistance
by Max Pringle

Brown’s proposal is generating opposition from elected officials and activists who oppose adding more space to the state’s prison system.

Dozens of activists who favor alternatives to incarceration rallied at the State Capital just hours before the governor and several legislative leaders rolled out their plan.  They say that plan lacks vision. 

“There are clear, viable alternatives to reduce the prison population, including compassionate release, including expanding good time credits. So it’s a false choice that the governor is making,” says Zachary Norris with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

Steinberg expected to release a plan of his own with a mental health and substance abuse treatment approach to reducing overcrowding.

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