California files court-ordered prison plan; critics blast it

SACRAMENTO
May 3, 2013 6:00am
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•  State expects to end up before Supreme Court

•  “Further population reduction is not needed”


California has grudgingly submitted to federal courts a new plan on how to reduce prison overcrowding and correct other problems.

The state has been ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to bring its vast system of 33 prisons – one of the largest in the world – into compliance with the Constitution, citing poor health care for inmates. It has ordered the transfer or release of more than 30,000 prisoners.

“The court ordered the population reduced so as to allow for medical and mental health care that complies with the Constitution. We are already providing that level of care and so further population reduction is not needed,” contends California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Jeff Beard.

The court-ordered list complies with an April 11 federal court order requiring the state to explain how it will reduce the adult prison population to 137.5 percent of design capacity. Meeting this order requires the state to reduce its prison population by another 9,300 inmates, the state says.

The state intends to appeal the court order for further prison population reductions to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The list of measures the state would take include:

• Expanding the capacity of fire camps by allowing certain inmates who are currently ineligible to participate

• Slowing the rate of returning out-of-state inmates to California

• Leasing beds from county jails and other facilities where there is sufficient capacity

• Increasing good-conduct credit for non-violent inmates, and,

• Expanding medical and elderly parole.

"There is barely anything here to reduce the prison population. It's a plan to return to the days of perpetual prison expansion," says Isaac Lev Szmonko of Critical Resistance, a member of Californians United for a Responsible Budget, a coalition of more than 50 organizations.

Critics blame the problem on Gov. Jerry Brown.

"His plan returns us to the nightmare of a constantly growing prison system - a proven failure - that has scarred two generations of California families and left a huge hole in the state budget,” Mr. Szmonko says.

The state says it has spent more than $1 billion dollars on new health care facilities and new treatment space, including a new, 1,722-bed facility that will open in July in Stockton as well as hiring more doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and other medical and mental health care staff.

The state is also off-loading thousands of inmates from state prisons to county jails. It says its various efforts have reduced the prison population by more than 25,000 inmates.

"Expanding parole for the seriously ill and for a small portion of elderly prisoners are only two of dozens of opportunities available," says Diana Zuñiga of CURB, which has proposed changes to sentencing and parole practices that could meet the population reduction target even after returning prisoners from out of state. "We call on the legislature to step up and demonstrate the leadership the Governor has failed to bring."


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