SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to buy the state time to fix its prison crisis by expanding the system would once again put state funding of prisons ahead of state spending on higher education.
The governor's three-year proposal would bring California's corrections budget to $11.5 billion for the current year.
The state currently allots $11.4 billion for higher education.
A spokesman for Brown's Finance Department disputed the comparison, saying that if only general fund money is counted, and not other state funds, higher education still comes out on top.
The largely symbolic comparison is considered by some to be an important demonstration of fiscal and political priorities. Assembly budget Chairwoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) said last week — before Brown announced a $315-million prison expansion — she was proud that California had finally made locking up people secondary to investing in their futures.
Prison spending fell behind higher education in the budget Brown signed in June for the first time in three years.
Brown described his plan to lease beds for 9,600 more inmates as "short-term," to expire in three years. Whatever capacity California buys, it may have to buy more.
Weekly population reports from the corrections department show that the state's inmate count is again creeping upward. After dramatic population drops in 2011, it has climbed steadily all year, from 132,296 in February to a current population of 133,428.
Brown has expressed concern that county prosecutors and judges are working out ways around the new sentencing laws to send criminals to prison instead of jail.
“So many [district attorneys] are upcharging, prisons are rising faster than they were a year ago,” Brown told The Times in an earlier interview, saying that he was meeting with prosecutors to understand the problem.
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