Gov. George Deukmejian, frustrated by the failure of the Legislature to reach a compromise on his prison expansion program, lashed out at Senate opponents Saturday, saying they have pushed the prison system to an "emergency overcrowding situation."
Deukmejian, using his weekly radio address to make his strongest statement on prisons in recent months, blamed the stalemate on "a handful of state senators" who he charged are "playing games with the safety of the public and our correctional officers."
The governor, for his part, offered no new solutions to the 2-year-old stalemate, which centers on opposition by Senate Democrats to the governor's plan to construct a state prison near downtown Los Angeles.
The battle over the Los Angeles prison site has delayed the opening of a women's prison in Stockton and a men's facility in San Diego, both of which are ready to take prisoners. Under a law pushed by Northern California and rural legislators, the Stockton and San Diego facilities cannot be opened until a site is approved in Los Angeles County.
"With our prisons bursting at the seams, can you think of any situation more ridiculous or irresponsible than to have two new prisons ready to open, but sitting silent and empty?" Deukmejian asked.
The Republican governor said that despite the opening of four new prisons in the last three years the state prison system is "dangerously overcrowded." About 63,000 prisoners today are crowded into a system designed to hold 35,000 men and women, he said.
'Run the Risk'
Because of the overcrowding, Deukmejian said, "we run the risk of having the courts ordering us to release dangerous criminals back onto the streets before they have served their full time."
The governor did not mention specific legislators during his three-minute address, carried by 17 stations throughout the state. But two Democratic lawmakers from Los Angeles, Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti and Sen. Art Torres, have been leading the opposition to the governor's expansion program, and a Deukmejian aide indicated that the governor's remarks were directed at them.
Deukmejian's press secretary, Kevin Brett, said the governor in recent months had tempered public comments about legislative inaction on his prison expansion program, hoping that Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside), who is carrying the prison legislation, could work out a compromise.
"Months have come and months have gone and the governor to this day has not seen any proposed compromise in writing," Brett said.
Negotiations at Standstill
Negotiations on the prison issue have been at a standstill since March, when the Senate Judiciary Committee, unable to reach a consensus with the Deukmejian Administration, approved a bill that would authorize two prisons in Los Angeles County--one near the urban Eastside and another near rural Lancaster.
The Deukmejian Administration had indicated that it might go along with the two-prison concept, but only if it did not delay construction of a prison at the Eastside location.