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April 5, 2011

Budgets and litigation have shrunk California's prison population ... but not enough

31457_4_4_prisons_graphic_large Stateline.org has this fantastic new piece on the state of California's prison system under the headlined "California shrinks its prisons, but overcrowding persists." Here are excerpts:

As the financially battered state enacts huge budget cuts, it has no choice but to downsize its sprawling correctional system, which now consumes 10 percent of the state budget and swallows more taxpayer dollars than higher education — a fact that, if public opinion surveys are accurate, Californians abhor.  A single prison bed costs taxpayers $44,500 a year.

The federal courts have dialed up the pressure, putting state officials on notice that severe overcrowding — a fact of life in California prisons for years — is no longer acceptable.  Two years ago, a panel of three federal judges found that overcrowding had created unconstitutionally inhumane conditions, ordering the state to reduce its inmate population by more than 40,000 — a staggering figure that eclipses the entire prisoner total of all but nine states.

Now, the U.S. Supreme Court is about to weigh in on the overcrowding problem by deciding whether to uphold, strike down or modify that order.  Oral arguments in the case, Schwarzenegger v. Plata, made clear that the court’s decision could break along familiar ideological lines....

California’s prison downsizing efforts began before the Supreme Court’s involvement.  In 2006, when the state's inmate population reached an all-time high of more than 172,000, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared an overcrowding emergency, warning that inmates and guards alike faced “extreme peril.”

About 10,000 inmates were promptly shipped to private prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma. More recently, thousands of others had their release dates moved up as state lawmakers, usually known for enhancing criminal penalties, were forced to change course. Through an expansion of so-called “good-time credits,” they authorized many inmates to leave prison ahead of schedule while reducing parole supervision for others, hoping to reduce the number sent back for relatively minor technical violations.  Today, California's in-state inmate population is down to 152,000.

Governor Jerry Brown, who took office in January, hopes to keep going.  Brown wants to shift tens of thousands of low-level state inmates to county jails, even though many of those jails themselves are at capacity.  If enacted, Brown's plan could reduce the state prison population by another 38,000 within four years, according to a nonpartisan legislative estimate.  It also may force counties to release thousands of offenders from their jails to make room for the state transfers....

In the notoriously divided Legislature, where budget negotiations between Brown and Republicans collapsed last week, it is difficult to find consensus on any policy, let alone one as emotionally and politically charged as prisons.  Not a single Republican voted for Brown’s plan to shift inmates to the counties. And with funding for the plan now uncertain, there is discussion of leaning more heavily on spending reductions to balance the budget — cuts that could speed prisoner releases and decimate what remains of inmate rehabilitation programs.

Meanwhile, fears about a spike in crime are common. Law enforcement officials warn that more releases — whether they are ordered by the Legislature or by the Supreme Court — will have predictable long-term consequences on crime, given that parolees in California are far more likely than in other states to run into trouble again.  “I’m not Nostradamus, but we have a 70 percent recidivism rate.  That is a fact,” says Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones.  “If you release 40,000 inmates, 28,000 of those will reoffend.”

April 5, 2011 at 04:04 PM | Permalink


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interesting and about time!

but i'm not sure how this part would work!

"It also may force counties to release thousands of offenders from their jails to make room for the state transfers...."

Just how would it even be legal to demand a country or city jail to hold prison inmates? absent a service contract at X dollars per day.

Just tell em the inn is FULL!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 5, 2011 5:43:23 PM


Cities and counties are creatures of state law. Absent state constitution home rule provisions (which federal courts have no power to enforce, though state courts do), the state legislature is free to require pretty much anything of its political subdivisions. That would include housing state prisoners in preference to county prisoners in county facilities at county expense.

In addition it is likely that counties would make the choice that state prisoners that have been foisted off on them are more in need of scarce cell capacity from a simple risk assessment standpoint.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Apr 5, 2011 6:42:32 PM


You sound like an apologist! I would like to go one step further. I am not a worthless lawyer. I am actually, an accomplished engineer. I have an interest in law because I had over 20 years of dealing with the CFR and the 'Feds'.

Why are we doing this? We are bankrupt, because of the "guberment".

Elected positions are like prostitutes (even SC judges).

How many more people do you want to make prisoners or, (my gosh), sex offenders?

Why are we (Bill, Doug, Ivy League Law Professors) and College Presidents (not one should make over $250,000 a year) so stupid and providing so damn little ROI?

We have been brainwashed, just like (I hate to say it, because the term has been belittled too much and everyone wants to berate those who use it (Nazi Germany), Gulp.

Please read a little bit of C. S. Lewis and Philip Wiley (G o V) and some old Sydney Harris (or Mike Royko) columnns and try to remain objective.

We are in very deep trouble.

Who is John Gault? Why are public sector unions, (or even Civil Service) allowed to continue?

Posted by: albeed | Apr 6, 2011 12:06:37 AM

horse pucky soronel

ONCE that individual became a STATE INMATE they are the legal property of the state till their sentence is finished and the STATE is liable for any and ALL expense in housing, feeling and caring for them...dont' think so...take a good long long look at the massive suit from calif now before the u.s. supreme court!

sorry they can't then turn around and demand local govt's pick up the tab and house them in local jails.

And any state govt official who does think so needs to be hung up by their heels till some blood manages to sink into their brains and MAYBE jumpstart it.

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 6, 2011 1:27:40 PM

Thank you for sharing,it is very helpful and I really like it!

Posted by: Big pony | Apr 11, 2011 6:04:18 AM

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