State Assembly panel approves $315 million to reduce prison crowding

Pelican Bay State Prison near Crescent City, Calif. A state panel approved $315 million to reduce prison overcrowding. Many prisoners will be transferred to other facilities including out-of-state private prisons and county jails.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

SACRAMENTO -- A California Assembly panel on Thursday approved Gov. Jerry Brown’s request for an additional $315 million to move inmates from state prisons to alternative housing so the state can comply with a court order to reduce crowding.

If the bill is approved by the full Assembly, it sets the stage for a showdown in the Senate, where Democrats oppose the measure and are insisting that more money be spent on rehabilitation and drug treatment services for felons so they do not end up back in prison after their release.

Members of the Assembly Budget Committee approved the legislation on a bipartisan 21-0 vote Thursday, with members saying they were allocating the additional money in SB 105 reluctantly and would rather spend the money on other priorities, including schools and universities.


“There is bipartisan frustration with the federal judges that are imposing this order and being irresponsible in forcing this state to have to spend $315 million to address this crisis,” Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) said.

He said the alternative, which he does not support, would be to release felons before they complete their sentence.

“We just don’t think that’s safe or responsible at this time in California’s history,” Martin Hoshino, undersecretary of the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, told the Assembly panel.

Hoshino said the money is needed to move or keep about 8,000 inmates out of existing prisons by the court deadline of Dec. 31. Many will be transferred to other facilities including out-of-state private prisons and county jails. The governor has said he needs $415 million for each of the next two years to maintain the reduction in inmate population.

Several advocates for social service programs and rehabilitation programs testified to the committee against the bill. It puts too many funds into incarceration “rather than putting money into rebuilding our communities,” testified Rebecca Gonzales, an advocate for the California chapter of the National Assn. of Social Workers.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), the committee chairwoman, was concerned about the lack of cost containment provisions in the legislation, including the lack of caps on the number of prisoners to be housed at each new facility.

Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) criticized the decision to spend more to use state prison guards to staff a private prison the state will rent in California City.

Currently, California spends $142 per prisoner per day for inmates in its own prisons and $63 to $67 to lease beds in private facilities out of state.

“I can’t understand why we would take it out of the private sector at half the cost and turn it over to the state at double the cost and use taxpayer dollars to fund the difference,” Grove said.

Hoshino said the high-level prisoners who might be housed in California City require the state to use its own prison guards, who have special training, procedures and skills that private guards may lack.

Asked whether a compromise is possible between the plans put forward by the governor and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), Rhys Williams, a spokesman for the lawmaker, said Thursday they “continue to have productive discussions.”


California seeks private prison deals

Prison plan would avoid releases, Brown says

Senate Democratic leader objects to Brown’s prison plan