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Calif. prison plan to re-classify inmates, save money

April 23, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Details have been revealed of a bold new plan to overhaul California's struggling prison system, and even save as much as $1.5 billion. Among the proposals: Bringing back inmates sent to other states.

The overhaul plan calls for sweeping changes in the nation's largest prison system. And it promises to save the state more than a billion dollars a year. It calls for the elimination of $4 million in construction projects, and for the closure a rehabilitation center in Norco. It also would return thousands of prisoners back to California.

Exporting California prisoners to private prisons out of state is far more expensive than keeping them in state. So the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is planning to bring them back, a move that could save the state millions of dollars.

"Currently we have 9,500 inmates in prisons in Mississippi and Oklahoma and Arizona at a cost to California taxpayers of over $300 million," said Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate.

At a Monday news conference in Sacramento, Cate explained that much of the four-year plan hinges on whether the U.S. Supreme Court will let California exceed the amount of inmates it's allowed to keep behind bars.

The current plan exceeds the court's recommendation by about 6,000 inmates. But Cate says many of those inmates should be in county jails, not prisons.

"We have been over-classifying inmates and having them in higher security levels than were necessary," said Cate. "Now that was because of overcrowding."

Bringing inmates back to California is made possible by a drop in the prison population. That is due to a new state law that shifts lower-level offenders from state prisons to county jails, known as "realignment." That was a result of a federal court order that requires the state to lower its prison population as a way to improve medical care for inmates.

Cate says the department will move toward ending federal control of prison medical, dental and mental healthcare by next year.

"We should see very shortly 70 percent of our inmates receiving care according to their criminogenic needs," said Cate.

Currently the Corrections Dept. makes up for about 11 percent of the state's budget. Officials are hoping the reorganization will bring that figure down to about 7.5 percent over the next three years.


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