Democratic Senators Call for Prison Plan from Schwarzenegger Administration—Inmate Population “A Bouncing Ball” Making Budget “Virtually Impossible”4 min read

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Not a Single Prison Bed Built Since $8 Billion Bond Passed a “Year Ago


Five leading Senate Democrats today requested the Governor provide a plan within 30 days to coordinate all the administration’s efforts to build prison beds, manage its corrections department and limit prison population growth.

In a letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the senators said the administration has failed to offer a “useful answer” on how several interrelated developments, such as the Governor’s proposal to release inmates early and a federal court receiver’s request for 10,000 new beds, affect the prison population’s bottom line.

The senators noted that one year after the passage of AB 900, a $7.9 billion measure to address prison overcrowding, not a single bed has been constructed.

The full text of the letter follows.

April 28, 2008

Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger
Governor of California
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814

Re: AB 900

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:

Saturday marks the first anniversary of AB 900, the Public Safety and Offender Rehabilitation Services Act of 2007. At your urging, we adopted this $7.9 billion legislation to lessen the serious overcrowding problems in California’s state prisons. AB 900 was your central argument to avoid a possible court mandated early release of prisoners.

Yet, one year since its passage, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has not constructed any beds!

Your budget proposes to release inmates from California’s prisons 20 months early and place low-level parolees on summary parole. If adopted, this would reduce prison population by twenty-eight thousand prisoners. The federal court receiver in the Plata lawsuit mandates the construction of ten thousand medical and mental health beds. Court settlement talks are underway to reduce the number of inmates in our prisons.

We have repeatedly inquired publicly and privately how these many proposals work together. We have yet to receive a useful answer. With all of the proposals out there, the prison population is a bouncing ball; we have no target. We face a multi-billion dollar deficit and a $6.9 billion bond demand from the federal court receiver. A 2008-09 corrections budget is virtually impossible when we don’t know who’s on first.

Senate Democrats take overcrowding very seriously. In addition to AB 900, the Senate Committee on Public Safety adopted ROCA, the Receivership/Overcrowding Crisis Aggravation, a policy to hold all bills that might exacerbate prison overcrowding. To date, the committee has held or amended all 34 bills that could result in demand for prison beds.

Furthermore, the Senate Rules Committee will not confirm parole commissioners who do not demonstrate a willingness to conform with Title 15, regulations to weigh remorse, responsibility and potential for violence as a factor for parole. Some of these inmates are senior citizens who occupy costly prison beds, have served well over their minimum parole date without incident, cost the state significant dollars in medical care and do not pose a risk to society. It makes no sense to open the doors with reckless abandon for twenty-eight thousand inmates regardless of their risk level (as your budget proposes) but not consider an inmate who poses little public safety risk.

As we demonstrated by taking a leap of faith on AB 900, implementing the ROCA policy and adopting a politically unpopular stance on the Board of Parole Hearings members, we are committed to taking additional reasonable steps necessary to address both the budget and the prison crises. The Senate has repeatedly shown a willingness to consider parole reform, the appropriate length of prison sentences, alternative sanctions, community corrections, the construction of medical and mental health beds, a second look at AB 900 and any other proposals within reason.

But we need your leadership. Several factors, such as the slower-than-expected growth of the prison population and your proposal to release inmates early, could substantially decrease the demand for prison beds. Yet AB 900 and the receiver propose additional beds. We need a plan that integrates these interrelated components. We respectfully request that within the next 30 days you tell us how CDCR plans to manage the several proposals to reduce inmate population.

In the final analysis, this is an administrative, not legislative or judicial, impasse.

Sincerely,

Don PERATA
President pro Tempore

DENISE DUCHENY
Chair, Senate Budget Committee

CHRISTINE KEHOE
Chair, Senate Budget Subcommittee 4

MICHAEL MACHADO
Member, Senate Budget Subcommittee 4

GLORIA ROMERO
Senate Majority Leader
Chair, Senate Committee on Public Safety

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