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Gov. Brown declares state prison crisis over

January 8, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
California Governor Jerry Brown says the state has done its part, and now the feds need to back off from oversight of the state prison system. Tuesday he signed a proclamation and filed court papers asking a judge to end the prison cap. But criticism was swift.

Governor Brown says he's had it with the feds telling California how to run its prison system. He wants control back so he can control spending.

"I'm ready. I'm raring to go, and don't expect me to leave too soon," said Gov. Brown.

In his first public appearance since finishing treatment for prostate cancer, Governor Jerry Brown wants to shake up California's troubled and severely overcrowded prison system.

- He signed a proclamation declaring the end of the state's prison crisis.

- He filed court papers to terminate federal oversight of inmates' mental health care.

- He asked the judges to remove the prison population cap.

Pointing to the thousands of pages in legal documents and reports, and the millions of dollars spent to produce them over the years, Governor Brown says it's time to return prison control back to California.

"We can't pour more and more dollars down the rat hole of incarceration. We have to spend as much as we need, but no more," said Brown.

California's prison problems began more than two decades ago when inmates filed a class-action lawsuit claiming mental-health care failed to meet Constitutional standards.

The courts concluded overcrowding was a major contributor and set a prison population cap, but politicians have been reluctant to release criminals early because of public safety concerns and fear of political ramifications.

Attorneys representing inmates say they will fight to keep the feds involved in inmate mental health care because things have not improved behind bars.

"The care in the prison remains terrible. There are prisoners who are dying and committing suicide at alarming rates, and independent analyses show that those deaths could have been prevented with adequate care," said Rebekah Evenson, Prison Law Office senior staff attorney.

Brown says no more. Though the state hasn't met the court-ordered reductions, there are now 43,000 fewer inmates since 2006 and healthcare inside prisons is better than what some Californians get on the outside.

"I didn't come here ... just to screw around. I'm trying to fix this state that has been screwed up for a long time," said Brown.

It's unclear how the courts will respond. Brown says California needs to start investing more in education than prisons. He'll release his budget proposal on Thursday, which might be a hint as to what to expect.