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Time runs out for Brown's new prison crowding plan

January 7, 2013 |  8:00 am
Monday is the deadline for Gov. Jerry Brown to let federal courts know what more he intends to do about crowding in California's prisons.

Brown’s novel plan, rolled out in 2011, was to improve prison conditions by making low-level felons the responsibility of counties. The gambit has fallen short on two key fronts.

It failed to meet court-ordered caps on prison crowding. Though the inmate population has dropped by 50,000 since 2007, California still has 9,000 prisoners too many. The excess is expected to swell to 12,000 by December 2013 if Brown brings home about 10,000 inmates shipped out of state to for-profit prisons.

It also failed to deliver its promise to taxpayers. Prison spending this year is expected to be $8.6 billion. Although that is a $394-million drop from the year before, Brown’s realignment plan promised to shrink the state corrections bill to $7.8 billion. Corrections is the third-largest part of California’s budget, behind public schools and healthcare for the poor and elderly.

A panel of three federal judges presiding over class-action lawsuits dealing with inmate health, medical and dental care gave the governor three months to “outline” how he will achieve the required reductions, and when.  The order also specifically asks the state to identify, by Monday, which laws would have to be waived, either by the governor or by the court, to put any new prison plans into place.

Civil rights advocates hope for something more than what the state has said repeatedly in past situations to the court: that short of an order or change in law, there is nothing more the governor can do.

"I’d think that an expansion of earned time credits might be at least a component of that plan," said Will Matthews, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. Giving inmates ways to shorten their sentences, Matthews said, "would be good in that it’d incentivize more prisoners to take advantage of rehabilitation, education and skills-training programs." 


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--Paige St. John in Sacramento