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Prison overcrowding: judges' extension sought

September 9, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
A possible breakthrough in the effort to reduce california's prison population: The state is under federal orders to lower the number of inmates, and Governor Brown and legislative leaders have worked out a compromise to make it happen. But there is still one big "if."

Under court order to reduce the inmate population by nearly 10,000 by the end of the year, the compromise reached by Governor Brown and legislative leaders from both parties calls for asking the judges for more time.

If they grant the extension, Senate President Darrell Steinberg's plan goes into effect: spending $200 million a year on rehabilitation and counseling programs to prevent criminals from re-offending and coming back to crowd the cells.

"Everybody is interested in a longer-term solution," said Steinberg (D-Sacramento). "And if they grant the extension, we have then the opportunity to do what's in the alternative plan."

If the court doesn't approve more time, the compromise proposal says it's back to square one: the governor's plan to spend more than $300 million immediately, contracting bed space at private or out-of-state prisons.

"This legislation shows the state of California is 100 percent compliant with what the court has ordered," said Brown.

A reduction in the prison population is crucial to help bring medical and mental care behind bars up to Constitutional standards.

Legal experts say an extension is highly unlikely. This lawsuit has been going on for more than two decades.

The group Taxpayers for Improving Public Safety can't believe state leaders are taking such a risk.

Clearly the judges are running out of patience and could order early releases.

"The court has been so clear on this that only lawmakers and the governor could possibly misunderstand the ruling," said Matt Gray, Taxpayers for Improving Public Safety. "The governor's plan really only kicks the can down the road and straps taxpayers with a huge debt."

A recent report by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst Office essentially agrees with those critics. It found the governor's plan will only work in the short term with the overcrowding problem eventually returning; and Steinberg's plan would take too long to see any results.