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Private prisons won’t solve California’s problems, advocates say

SACRAMENTO — California officials want to comply with a court order to reduce the prison population by simply locking up inmates in different places, but advocates say that’s a shortsighted approach to the problem.

The state’s 34 prisons must hold 9,600 fewer inmates by the end of the year to comply with an order from a panel of three federal judges who have deemed the prisons unconstitutionally crowded.

Officials are trying to find room for the inmates in private prisons, county jails and other facilities. Otherwise, they’ll have to start releasing inmates, a process detailed in The Times on Wednesday

Don Specter, a lawyer for inmates who have sued the state over prison conditions, said the state’s plans to relocate inmates would only provide a temporary solution.

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“It’s expensive. It doesn’t do anything to further rehabilitation,” he said. “It just perpetuates the same policy.”

James Austin, a prison consultant, said it makes more sense to expand credits for good behavior, allowing low-security inmates to be released early. He said that will save the state money without increasing the crime rate.

“It works,” he said. “And it doesn’t jeopardize public safety.”

Strict sentencing laws have packed California prisons over the years. When the three-judge panel originally ordered the state to decrease its prison population in 2009, there were 150,000 inmates and prisons were operating at nearly twice their capacity.

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Now there are about 119,000 inmates, but still more than allowed under the court order. 

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Twitter: @chrismegerian


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