California prisons detail plan to downsize, cut costs
The California prison system on Monday unveiled an extensive plan to cut spending by billions of dollars, close a prison and return inmates being housed out of state -- all while meeting court-ordered benchmarks on medical care and overcrowding.
In three years, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is expected to be 7.5% of the state's total budget, down from an estimated 9.4% in the upcoming fiscal year. This is largely because of realignment, the process of sending low-level offenders to local jails instead of state prisons to comply with a court order to reduce chronic overcrowding.
"California is finally getting its prison costs under control and taking the necessary steps to meet federal court mandates," Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement.
Some parts of the state's plan will require consent from the Legislature, and its success also hinges in part on court approval. Although the court ordered California to reduce its inmate population to 137.5% of prison capacity, the state expects to fall slightly short, at 141% by the June 2013 deadline.
Corrections Secretary Matt Cate said the state will ask the court to raise its benchmark next year.
Realignment will lead to other changes in the prison system. A lower inmate population could allow the state to reduce its construction plans from $6 billion to $1.9 billion.
In addition, the state plans to close the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco by June 2016, reducing prison capacity by 2,491 beds and $160 million per year. Cate said the prison is one of the state's oldest and least efficient, and its 1,200 employees could face layoffs or transfers if they don't retire.
Next year the state will also push to end federal control of prison medical, dental and mental healthcare, which are the subject of three separate court cases. A federal judge has already cited significant improvements in inmate healthcare.
There will also be more room in state prisons for the 9,500 inmates now being held out of state in private facilities. Cate said officials plan to return all of them to California by 2016, saving $318 million a year.
Photo: Inmates' beds fill a gymnasium at the state prison in Lancaster in 2010. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times
-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento