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State should seek more time to ease prison crowding, report says

August 5, 2011 | 10:53 am

California is unlikely to meet a federal court mandate to reduce its prison population by 34,000 inmates in two years, so state officials should ask for more time, the top advisor to the Legislature said Friday.

The report by the Legislative Analyst's Office says a recently approved realignment plan that would shift many low-level offenders to serve their sentences in county jails instead of prisons could significantly help meet the order of a three-judge panel to reduce overcrowding.

"Our analysis, however, indicates that the realignment plan alone is unlikely to reduce overcrowding sufficiently within the two–year deadline set by the court," said the report by Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor. "This indicates to us that, as the U.S. Supreme Court suggested, a somewhat longer timeframe is warranted."

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has estimated the shifting of some offenders to jails could reduce the prison population by 32,000 inmates, but the analyst says it is likely to take longer than two years to fully realize that goal. The state is likely to fall "several thousand"' inmates short of meeting the court mandate by the deadline, the report said.

The analyst also recommends that California send more of its prisoners to out-of-state contract prisons, and that new contracts for prison-construction projects be put temporarily on hold until a review to determine whether they will be needed when the inmate-reduction mandates are met.

"Given the significant reduction in overcrowding that will occur in response to the court ruling ... we believe that CDCR should reevaluate the number, types, and scope of prison construction projects it plans to deliver,"’ the report said. The analyst noted, for instance, that current plans call for providing a lot more dormitories for low-level offenders but that the reallignment plan may reduce the demand for that kind of housing.


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-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: A community prison reform coalition protests jail overcrowding at a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting on July 26. Credit: Nick Ut / Associated Press