Even after realignment, prison projections rise
Gov. Jerry Brown's administration has again revised population expectations for the state's double-bunked prisons, predicting more felons coming into custody even as counties take over control of low-level offenders.
The higher numbers reflect a realization judges are continuing to sentence some low-level felons to state prison rather than county jail, where the state had hoped they would stay.
The just-released prison projections make it even unlikelier California will be able to comply with a federal court order to reduce overcrowding by June 30, 2013. The decline in the state prison population slowed to just 77 inmates in August. A Times analysis of monthly tallies shows that at current incarceration rates, the state will have 7,000 inmates more than allowed, more than enough to fill another prison.
California has decreased its prison population by more than 27,000 inmates in the past year. Nevertheless, the new report adds almost 1,000 inmates to the agency's previous projections, numbers that even then suggested the state would exceed federal orders.
A panel of three federal judges presiding over inmate lawsuits against California has given the state until Jan. 7 to produce a new prison reduction plan. California must reduce crowding to 137.5% of what its 33 prisons were designed to hold. The cap translates into 112,032 inmates in prisons built to hold 81,000.
The population caps were ordered after California failed for years to improve what judges ruled were unconstitutionally cruel conditions in its aging prisons, with medical care so bad that an inmate a week died needlessly.
The state says it intends to prove it can provide adequate medical and mental health care even at higher populations. Inmate advocates argue that California could easily meet the population caps by increasing the number of prisoners released early for good behavior. The state's lawyers have told the court that absent changes in sentencing laws, California has few options other than to continue shipping prisoners to for-profit prisons in other states, a program Brown has said he wants to shut down.
Short of an agreement with the state, inmate advocates intend to submit their own plan to the court.
"It is pretty clear that the state won’t take any further action absent a court order," Don Specter, lead lawyer for the Prison Law Office, said Wednesday evening. "The state has said that the care is better so that the population can be higher, but we don’t agree with that."
--Paige St. John in Sacramento
Graphic: A year after the state shifted responsibility for low-level offenders to counties, declines in the state prison population have slowed dramatically. Chart shows monthly decrease in state inmate population. Source: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation monthly population reports.