EDITOR’S NOTE: As we all know by now, the US Supreme Court and the panel of three federal judges have both demanded that the state lower its prison population by 9400 inmates by the end of this year. The strategy that the governor and the members of the state legislature choose in order to respond to the judges’ demand will have great fiscal and human consequences in California for years to come.
As things stand, Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed plan consists mainly of addressing overcrowding by expanding the state’s prison system. As there is no way to actually build new prisons by the December 31, 2013 deadline, he proposes to lease a for profit prison from the Corrections Corporation of America, and to staff it with California’s union guards, at a cost of $315 million the first year, $415 in the subsequent two years. (And that’s over and above the billions that we already spend to house our inmates.) The extra funds will blow through the state’s entire surplus in a plan that critics say does nothing to lower the prison population in the long term—and is not guaranteed to lower the population enough in the short term either.
This week Senate leader Darrell Steinberg and the Senate Democrats have come up with an alternate proposal that WLA’s Taylor Walker has detailed below.
Neither plan involves any kind of prisoner release, which has, frankly, become a political impossibility.
At WitnessLA we strongly favor Steinberg’s strategy, and will be weighing in on the topic in the days between now and the Sept. 13 deadline when the legislature adjourns.
Much is at stake here. And even if you think this isn’t usually your kind of issue, we hope you will decide to make it your issue this time.
Here’s Taylor’s report:
PRISON PLANS: SENATOR STEINBERG VS. JERRY BROWN
In a press conference Wednesday morning, the California Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), backed by a group of Democratic senators, proposed an alternative to Governor Jerry Brown’s extremely expensive prison-leasing plan to reduce overcrowding by the end of the year. (For back-story, go here.)
The Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) is backing Gov. Brown’s $730 million—in total—proposal, but the California Senate Pro Tem Steinberg is adamantly against it. Steinberg said that the Senate would not let the governor’s plan pass.
The conflict has a little over two weeks to be settled before the Senate’s current session ends on September 13th.
AP’s Tom Verdin has the story. Here’s a clip:
In a direct slap to Gov. Jerry Brown, his fellow Democrats in the state Senate on Wednesday rejected his plan for dealing with California’s prison crisis, throwing the state’s response to a federal court order into chaos.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Brown’s proposal to move inmates to private prisons and vacant county jail cells was essentially dead on arrival and that his chamber would not pass it.
“We oppose the governor’s plan,” Steinberg told a Capitol news conference. “We think it is, as the governor himself said … ‘It’s throwing money down a rat hole.'”
Brown quickly dismissed Steinberg’s alternative — seeking an extension from the court — leaving the state with no clear path just weeks before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn for the year.
Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, released a statement calling Brown’s plan “the right plan given our circumstances.” Some of Steinberg’s long-term proposals already are included in the governor’s plan, he said.
While the Democratic Assembly speaker is on board, the Democrats who control the Senate are not. They are rejecting both the early release of inmates and spending any more money to house prisoners elsewhere.
“I know we are not going to do what was proposed yesterday,” Steinberg said. “It’s not smart.”
Instead, he wants a three-year extension of the year-end deadline set by the federal courts.
That grace period would be designed to give local rehabilitation and drug and mental health treatment programs time to work. Steinberg said such programs, if properly implemented, will lower the crime rate and, by extension, send fewer people to prison.
UT-San Diego’s Steven Greenhut also has a good column on the battle between Brown’s plan and that of Steinberg and the Senate Democrats. Here’s a small clip of what Greenhut has to say about Brown’s plan:
If this is all the administration could come up with, it’s hard to understand why the prison matter has been dragging on for so long.
Aside from some mention about the plan buying time for legislators to look at long-term solutions, there was little reference at the press conference to the kinds of policies the state would look at to create a longer-term, less-costly fix. The plan seems like a punt.
THE SENATE DEMOCRATS’ COUNTER-PROPOSAL: MORE REHABILITATION
Here’s the full video of Senator Steinberg’s Wednesday presentation of the proposed alternative to Brown’s plan:
Steinberg’s plan to address the prison overcrowding crisis can be found here. (Note: clicking on the link will download the doc to your computer.)
And here’s a bit about the plan from the Senate’s website:
The Senate plan would achieve a durable solution to California’s chronic prison overcrowding by reducing crime through performance-based grant programs. The grants would incentivize counties to expand proven rehabilitation, drug and mental health treatment programs for criminal offenders. Additionally, the state would create an Advisory Commission on Public Safety to analyze and recommend changes in California’s sentencing laws.
In return, Senator Steinberg asks that the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit agree to extend the current December 31, 2013 deadline for meeting the court-imposed population cap by three years. The proposal asks all parties to allow an independent state panel to evaluate and determine proper population levels for California’s prisons based on standards and practices employed by correctional administrators across the country.
“Governor Brown has a well-earned reputation as a good steward of the public purse; throwing this expensive Band-Aid on a hemorrhage threatens to undermine our hard work,” said Steinberg.
The Performance Incentive Public Safety Grant Program proposed by Senator Steinberg is modeled after a 2009 effort which, in just two years, reduced new prison admissions by more than 9,500, with $536 million in state savings over three years.
And here’s a clip from Senator Steinberg statement against Brown’s $315M plan:
“The Governor’s proposal is a plan with no promise and no hope. 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.
“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.
SENATE CANCELS HEARING TO APPROVE BROWN’S CDCR APPOINTEES
Amid the clash over what to do about the federal court order to drop the prison population, the California Senate played hardball by postponing a hearing to confirm two of the governor’s CDCR director appointees.
The LA Times’ Anthony York has the story. Here’s a clip:
As the two Democrats tangle over prison policy, Steinberg has put the governor’s appointees on hold, at least temporarily. Both Stone and Virbel have been removed from the docket of Wednesday’s hearing.
“It’s clear we have additional questions about the administration’s ongoing corrections policy,” said Steinberg spokesman Mark Hedlund. “It makes sense to wait before we consider those two appointments.”
AND LA COUNTY SHERIFF CANDIDATES WEIGH IN…
Sheriff hopefuls Paul Tanaka and Lou Vince weighed in on the governor’s proposed plan. Here’s what they had to say:
Paul Tanaka (@TanakaLASheriff)
It is logical that our prisons expand at the same rate as our population. I agree with Brown’s proposal to expand. http://bit.ly/15uw8z3
Lou Vince (@Vince4Sheriff)
@TanakaLASheriff No- Prison pop. declines if we are smart w/sentencing & custody alternatives. Expansion only exacerbates problem @WitnessLA