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Prison overcrowding: shift inmates out of state?

August 6, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
California's crowded prisons are causing headaches in Sacramento. Rather than releasing felons, Governor Jerry Brown is looking at ways to move the overcrowding across state lines. But the proposal is controversial and expensive.

In a desperate attempt to avoid releasing nearly 10,000 felons from California prisons, the Brown Administration is looking to transfer them to out-of-state private facilities and local jails as a way of complying with a court order to ease overcrowding. It would be enough to prevent most, if not all, early releases.

The option was given little thought in the past because families find it difficult to travel to visit their loved ones and it's so expensive for the state to pay for extra beds.

"It's better than letting them go," said Michael Rushford, president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.

The Criminal Justice Legal Foundation applauds the move. Since October 2011, California has been sending low-risk offenders to the county lockup. The group says now only hardcore criminals are left at the state level, and that early release would be dangerous.

"Anything to prevent that: temporary housing, out-of-state prisons, private -- whatever it takes, we've got to do that, or there will be more blood and more crime and we don't need that," said Rushford.

But the attorney representing inmates questions whether it's really worth the expense to pay for more beds. He says there are safe ways to release 10,000 inmates.

"There are lots of ways, like GPS, halfway houses, work furlough programs. All those sorts of things where you can punish people for their offenses and still integrate them back into the community," said Don Specter, an attorney for inmates.

The court order to ease overcrowding by the end of the year aims to bring medical and mental care provided behind bars up to Constitutional standards.

California has already shed 46,000 prisoners since 2006, but the courts have consistently said that's not enough.

The plan to pay for extra beds is not a slam-dunk. Courts have to approve it, reluctant lawmakers will have to appropriate the funds and inmates must consent to go out-of-state.


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