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State Assembly Passes Overcrowded Jail Plan

Sarah Collins |
September 13, 2013 | 6:13 p.m. PDT



The State Assembly unanimously moved to reduce prison crowding by an estimated 137.5 percent in the latest plan by Gov. Jerry Brown and California legislative leaders Wednesday.

Brown's proposal, announced Monday, passed by a 75-0 vote. The state sought to ask a panel of three federal judges for time to expand its current rehabilitation programs.

If judges refused the proposal, the state would return to Brown’s original plan, spending $315 million to reduce the prison population by 9,600 inmates by the end of 2013. The plan called for a relocation of 12,000 inmates to private prisons, county jails and other facilities.

The passage of the proposal came as a compromise for Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) and Republican leaders in both houses, who expressed early approval of Brown’s plan. They had been at odds with Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who sought more funding for drug rehabilitation and mental health programs. Steinberg was prepared to ask the judges to delay the deadline for three years.

According to the L.A. Times, preparations were made to move the prisoners, a move that historically had detrimental effects on the California prison system.

Fueled by a lack of space within the facilities, state legislators in 2007 allotted $1.2 billion to county jail construction. They pledged to spend another $500 million in 2012.

Six years after the original funds were authorized, however, only five of these jails were in the process of being built. Not one was completed.

In 2011, the problem of overcrowding was further exacerbated when a California law passed mandating the redirection of lower-level offenders from state to county prisons.

The L.A. County jail system, the largest in the world, released 26,000 inmates early in 2012. However, the county continued to face severe overcrowding issues.

People said the county’s inaction was in large part due to its economic immobility, making it difficult to sell construction bonds and secure county matching funds.

Madera County’s Corrections Director Manuel Perez said the stalemate was a result of the state’s bureaucratic structure.

"The red tape is unbelievable," he told the Sacramento Bee.

Because of the aforementioned law, around 6,000 inmates originally in state jails were housed in the L.A. County jails, and none were to be released early.

Although the county did receive additional funding to house more inmates, L.A. County Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald said it was not enough.   

To deal with overcrowding, county jails released inmates serving traditional jail sentences, composing about 6 percent of the approximately 18,800 inmates. 

Assembly Speaker Pérez said the passage of the new plan was a compromise that "allows for us to comply with the three-judge panel’s order but also would not allow for any inmates to be released early from prison."

The bill is now up for final legislative approval by the Senate.

Reach Contributor Sarah Collins here.



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