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State to use reserve funds to reduce prison overcrowding

August 27, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
California is dipping into its billion-dollar reserve fund to keep nearly 10,000 inmates behind bars. Governor Brown wants to lease cells in private prisons in order to comply with federal court orders dealing with inmates.

California is under tremendous pressure from the courts to relieve prison overcrowding.

Refusing to outright release nearly 10,000 inmates, Governor Brown and legislative leaders say they'll allocate $315 million in the state budget to contract out more beds in private prisons and out-of-state facilities to meet the order.

And to keep labor unions happy, some of those facilities will employ state guards.

"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. That's the plan," said Brown.

California has already shed some 46,000 inmates since 2006, but judges have consistently ruled it hasn't been enough to bring medical and mental care up to constitutional standards.

The state must comply with the population reduction by the end of the year.

Opponents say increasing prison spending is a bad idea, and that'll mean less money for other state programs.

Community activists are furious. They say the state already spends too much on prisons and not enough helping average families.

"You're telling me that you're not going to promise children an education, but you'll promise them incarceration?" said one activist.

Vanessa Nelson works with "lifers." In fact, she married a convicted murderer who was paroled just a few months ago. She believes there are ways to safely release inmates early.

"People say that life-term prisoners are the worst of the worst. But in actuality, they're the most reformed of the reformed, the most rehabilitated," said Vanessa Nelson, CEO and director of Life Support Alliance.

Governor Brown says no way, no matter how much it costs.

"Public safety is the priority, and we'll take care of it," said Brown. "The money is there."

The state senate is not on board with the governor's plan and will be presenting its own proposal Wednesday.


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