SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Jerry Brown and the four leaders of California’s Legislature reached a compromise Monday on reducing the state’s prison population, offering to spend more money on rehabilitation efforts if a panel of federal judges will extend an end-of-the-year deadline to release thousands of inmates.
The deal relies on the state persuading three federal judges to give California time to let rehabilitation programs work rather than spend $315 million to lease cells in private prisons and county jails.
The leaders agreed that if the judges don’t extend the deadline, the state will fall back on Brown’s plan to lease the cells.
“There’s insurance here against early release,” of prisoners, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said at a news conference outside his office, where he was joined by the Democratic and Republican leaders of each chamber.
Steinberg had opposed Brown’s plan and wanted to ask the judges to delay the deadline for three years while the state gave counties $200 million annually for drug, mental health and other rehabilitation programs.
The agreement reached Monday resolves the impasse as lawmakers race toward the end of the legislative session this week.
The three-judge panel ordered the state to lower its prison population by about 9,600 inmates by year’s end. Brown is appealing that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the justices declined to delay the deadline.
Without an alternative, the judges had threatened to order the state to give thousands of inmates good time credits, which would lead to their early release. They have repeatedly threatened to hold Brown in contempt if the state does not meet the deadline to reduce the prison population to about 110,000 inmates.
Brown has argued that the state already reduced the population by 46,000 inmates to comply with court orders, primarily through a 2-year-old law that sentences lower level offenders to county jails instead of state prisons. He argues that only the most dangerous convicts remain in state prisons.
“That’s huge, that’s monumental. We can build on that, but not in a month or a year,” Brown said Monday about previous inmate reductions.
Steinberg had orchestrated opposition from Senate Democrats to Brown’s plan and wanted the administration to negotiate with attorneys who represent inmates to push back the year-end deadline by three years. Brown rejected those talks, saying he would not let inmates’ attorneys help determine the state’s public safety policy.
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