Not willing to put criminals back on the street, the Governor’s proposal meets the court order’s prison population reduction requirement without threatening public safety. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) on Wednesday announced an alternative plan. The Assembly Budget Committee on Thursday took up the Governor’s plan, SB 105, and approved it by a vote of 21–0.
Governor’s Plan Utilizes Community Corrections Facilities and Out-of-State Prisons
The federal court order requires California to lower its prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity by Dec. 31, 2013. The state has since 2006 reduced its prison population by 42,000. More than half (25,000) of that reduction has occurred following the enactment of AB 109 in 2011. The Governor had repeatedly expressed great concern with the dangers of putting criminals back on the street in order to comply with the court order and unsuccessfully asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider.
Along with Speaker Pérez, the plan introduced this week is backed by both Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) and Republican Assembly Leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare). SB 105 lays out a 24-month plan to achieve compliance and its provisions sunset in three years.
SB 105 authorizes additional out-of-state inmate transfers as well as transfers between state and local facilities in California. It also authorizes the potential use of private correctional facilities. The bill contains a provision that may constitute a CEQA waiver to implement any necessary related agreements. Under SB 105 approximately 3,000 inmates will be shifted to 14 community corrections facilities in California with another 5,000 slated for transfer to private out-of-state prisons. The state previously closed the community corrections facilities, but they would be re-opened and operated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Four of the community corrections facilities have been operated by cities: Coalinga, Delano, Shafter and Taft.
Implementing SB 105 is estimated to cost $315 million in FY 2013–14 and $415 million annually for each of the next two years. In resuming control of the community corrections facilities, the state is assuming significant costs that will be ongoing. This will result in General Fund expenditures beyond this time frame.
Assembly Member Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee, voiced concerns in committee about the bill’s lack of cost containment measures. She questioned whether the state feels sufficient urgency for crafting a long-term solution.
Corrections officials assured the committee that once implemented, SB 105 would bring California into compliance with the 137.5 percent of capacity required by the federal court order. Some committee members, however, questioned whether the state would remain in compliance without additional long-term measures geared toward a permanent solution. Corrections officials testified that a long-term solution would be forthcoming but that that there is an immediate need to implement SB 105.
Sen. Steinberg’s Alternative Plan Seeks Extension of Prison Reduction Deadline, Focuses on Services
The Senate leader was quick to criticize Governor Brown’s proposal on Tuesday and on Wednesday held his own news conference flanked by about a dozen Democratic senators to roll out an alternative. He wants to negotiate a settlement with the proponents of the law suit demanding a reduction in prison population to extend compliance an additional three years. Counties under Sen. Steinberg’s proposal would receive $200 annually to enhance drug treatment programs and mental health services for criminals. He also wants to create a commission to examine California sentencing laws.
The senator contends that his approach will result in greater long-term success in maintaining a lower prison population level and cost less than Gov. Brown’s proposal at an estimated $400 million in the next two years.