Democratic senators propose alternative to Jerry Brown’s prison plan

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento)
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

State Senate Democrats are proposing an alternative to Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan for meeting a court order on prison overcrowding, in large part by providing grants as incentives for counties to expand rehabilitation, drug and mental health treatment programs for criminal offenders.

Under the plan, the state would provide grant funds of $200 million for each of the first two years, growing to $300 million in future years.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said he will ask the plaintiffs in the federal litigation to agree to extend the Dec. 31 deadline for meeting the prison population cap by three years as part of a settlement of their longstanding lawsuit.

“The federal courts have put us in the untenable position of either releasing thousands of inmates from our prisons early or putting our prison capacity on steroids by renting new prison beds at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars for years to come,” Steinberg said. “Neither option makes any sense. We can do far better and would be wrong to give up now.”

Steinberg submitted a letter to Brown, who a day earlier had proposed spending $315 million this year, and $400 million in future years to provide more prison cells so that no convict would be released early due to overcrowding.


“Temporarily expanding California’s prison capacity is neither sustainable nor fiscally responsible,” Steinberg wrote to Brown in a letter that was obtained by The Times.

The Democrats’ proposed Performance Incentive Public Safety Grant Program is modeled on a 2009 program that, after two years, reduced new prison admissions by more than 9,500, Steinberg said.

Steinberg called for the parties involved in the litigation to agree to a settlement by Sept. 13, the last meeting day of the Legislature this year. The settlement would provide for a state panel of experts to set a new population cap, and include a three-year extension to meet the cap.

The state would also create an 18-person Advisory Commission on Public Safety to recommend changes in sentencing laws and other methods of reducing the prison population.

“Governor Brown has a well-earned reputation as a good steward of the public purse; throwing this expensive Band-Aid on a hemorrhage threatens to undermine our hard work,” the Senate leader said.


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