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September 18, 2009

California's court-ordered plan for prison population reductions to come up short

As detailed in this Sacramento Bee article, which is headlined "Schwarzenegger's prisons plan will fall short of judges' order," California's Governor will be filing today a plan to address overcrowding in the state's prisons, but the specifics might not make the special three-judge panel of federal judges too happy:

Schwarzenegger's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation intends to file an inmate reduction plan with the court today, but the state's proposal will be well shy of the judges' inmate target, according to a legislative memo. The plan will incorporate the package approved last week by the Legislature to cut the population by 16,000 inmates, as well as proposals to send 2,500 inmates out of state and 1,000 inmates to private prisons. It also will propose constructing new buildings on existing prison sites to house an additional 7,600 inmates....

Senate Republicans objected to Schwarzenegger's proposed prison cuts this summer, but they applauded the governor's approach to stop short of the three-judge panel's demands in his plan. They saw it as a potential legal strategy to challenge the federal judges, eventually forcing the U.S. Supreme Court to settle whether the federal government can mandate a release of prisoners. "I assume the court is going to find this totally inadequate," said state Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster. "I hope they find it inadequate, reject it and then we appeal to the Supreme Court."

Sen. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach, said his caucus believes the federal three-judge panel has overstepped its bounds. "The fundamental question is, do they have the jurisdiction and right to make these orders?"

The judges could respond by rejecting Schwarzenegger's plan and asking him to resubmit it. They could put the plan under a review process that ultimately results in a final order demanding greater inmate reductions. Or the judges could hold Schwarzenegger and Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate in contempt.

Even if they are cited for contempt, it is unlikely the governor and prison boss would wind up in jail. Inmates' attorneys have said in the past they would not seek such an extreme penalty. But they questioned Schwarzenegger's approach Thursday. "It is inexplicable to me why the governor would not submit to the court a modified version of the plan he submitted to the Legislature," said Donald Specter of the Prison Law Office, co-chief counsel for the inmates. "The governor said that that plan would not be a risk to public safety and, if enlarged slightly, would comply with the court's requirements."

He referred to a deal Schwarzenegger sought in July that called for a population reduction of 37,000 over two years. That plan would allow sick and elderly inmates or those in the final year of their sentences to finish serving time on home detention or in community hospitals wearing Global Positioning System tracking devices....

The plan Schwarzenegger intends to file today will not include the controversial alternative custody provisions, according to Runner. If the plan proves unsatisfactory to the federal judges, "the state's officials are correct that they may be facing contempt proceedings," Specter said. "We will decide whether to pursue contempt after reviewing the state's final plan."

The other chief counsel for the inmates, Michael Bien, sounded a similar note. He said he believes state officials are running the risk of contempt "if the state's 'strategy' is to set up a confrontation with the three-judge court by defying the court's lawful order."

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September 18, 2009 at 11:03 AM | Permalink


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Here's what I don't understand. Before the recent meltdown CA Corrections Chief Matthew Cate had laid out a proposal to reduce the inmate pop by 27,000 in the next few years. The Assembly rejected the plan, but a plan exists.

Add to that "proposals to send 2,500 inmates out of state and 1,000 inmates to private prisons. It also will propose constructing new buildings on existing prison sites to house an additional 7,600 inmates," and that gets you to 38,000 inmates, which is pretty much in substantial compliance with what the court ordered (40K).

So California HAS a plan to reduce that many inmates, it's just that for some ineffable but undoubtedly political reason the Governor refuses to send it to the courts.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Sep 18, 2009 11:21:59 AM

I agree with Grits, the state already has a plan that is much closer than this. Even if they didn't intend to actually use it, there would be another year plus gone by before the panel would know thatt. Couple that with being able to house at least 10k prisoners in space designed for 7k and you are even closer to the goal. Or maybe they are already figuring in that overage allowance when they say 7k.

I don't think California as a state realizes the predicament they are in. I honestly don't see SCOTUS bailing them out here. Perhaps changing the panel's 133% to 150%, but not ruling that the panel can't order release when that is about the only thing the panel actually can order. They can't force the state to spend money it doesn't have.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 18, 2009 2:31:01 PM

The state filed its plan. (pdf)

Posted by: George | Sep 19, 2009 2:50:33 AM

Please forgicve my ignorance of your system -- I'm an Australian, but aren't there some fairly obvious fundamental reforms needed?

Firstly, does it make sense to allow the three-strikes rule to include a misdemenaour as the third strike? Wouldn't it make sense to rule all those locked up for 25 years on this basis as suitable to commutation of the unserved balance above what they should have got?

And why should anyone whose physical condition would preclude them from being a serious danger not be eligible for periodic or weekend detention, or even home detention?

And then of course, given that the bulk of the population in the prisons is there for non-violent offences, especially drug possession, wouldn't it make sense to have non-custodial sentences for such, even if people can't bring themselves to reform the drug laws to decriminalise use of recreational drugs?

Posted by: Fran Barlow | Sep 19, 2009 3:33:36 AM

Fran, it's politics and a long story. See Cruel Justice: Three Strikes and the Politics of Crime in America's Golden State to see what any reform is up against.

Posted by: George | Sep 19, 2009 4:17:04 AM

as a newbie in this field but i think that any reform has the advantage of making people think to the best solution of our time.
i wish to thank you for this very useful information

Posted by: bon de reduction | Mar 5, 2010 10:48:08 PM

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