Prison construction plan costly, unnecessary, analyst says
This post has been updated. See the notes below for details.
The Legislative Analyst's Office issued a report on Wednesday criticizing the Brown administration's plan to overhaul California's prison system.
The plan, announced last month, is intended to save billions of dollars by closing a prison, shifting staff members and returning inmates housed out of state. The administration also wants to renovate and add to existing facilities.
Although the Legislative Analyst's Office said the plan "merits consideration," it said the state will end up facing high costs despite decreasing prison capacity.
"The administration has not justified the need for several costly prison construction projects that would add $76 million in annual debt–service costs to the general fund," the report said. "The proposed projects also appear to be significantly more expensive than other recently proposed prison construction projects."
[Updated, 1:30 p.m. May 16: Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, pointed out that the administration has already scaled down its construction plans. And he said that though there will be some additional spending to cover borrowing costs, the administration's overall blueprint will reduce spending on the state's prison system.]
The prison system is under intense scrutiny as it works to meet court-ordered benchmarks on reducing overcrowding and improving inmate healthcare. The court-appointed receiver who controls the prison medical system has said renovating facilities is a crucial next step, but the Legislative Analyst's Office questioned whether it's necessary.
In addition, the report criticized plans to build new space for inmates at existing prisons. It said the proposal, at $1,000 per square foot, is significantly more expensive than all other construction projects under consideration.
[Updated, 1:30 p.m., May 16: Callison said the new space is more expensive because it will be built according to modern standards. That will make the prisons cheaper to operate in the long run, he said.
In addition, Callison said the state needs the extra construction to comply with court orders.
"That's non-negotiable," he said.]
--Chris Megerian in Sacramento
Photo: Inmates watch television at a state prison in Lancaster. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times