Legislature begins to talk about prison bailout


SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown already has begun talking to legislative leaders about the amount of money that would be needed to bail the state out of its prison crowding crisis.

The governor has a court-imposed Dec. 31 deadline to find room for some 9,600 inmates or face the prospect of early releases. The corrections department currently is discussing paying private prison operators, counties and cities to take those inmates, at prices that range from $38 to $65 per inmate per day.

At the moment, Brown also will have to find funding and authority to continue sending inmates already contracted to go to out-of-state prisons owned by Corrections Corp. of America. When Brown declared the state’s prison crisis “over” in January, he also ended an emergency declaration that had allowed California to send prisoners out of state against their will.


Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has said he will seek to offset any expansions of the state’s prison budget with more money for mental health programs. “There needs to be comparable effort,” said Mark Hedlund, Steinberg’s spokesman. He acknowledged “preliminary discussions” between legislative leaders and the governor.

These talks are taking place with the prison guards union working without a contract. The California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. is still attempting to negotiate its new labor agreement with the state. For now, the union, historically opposed to private prisons and their use of nonunion guards, has said it won’t contest Brown’s temporary use of leased lockups.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) has asked Brown to call a special session to come up with permanent solutions to the state’s prison problems.

“As early as 2007, we knew this day would come,” Nielsen said, criticizing Brown’s decision to abandon prison-construction plans in favor of shifting more felons into county jails. “Stopgap measures ... will leave California prisons in perpetual crisis.”


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