SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California’s new Governor Jerry Brown will propose moving low-level offenders from state prisons to county jails as part of his plan to reduce the state’s $28 billion deficit.
Brown has not yet announced the specifics behind his county jail proposal.
In order to reduce overcrowding and improve medical services in the state prison system, a federal court ruled that California must reduce its state prison population by 30,000. The U.S. Supreme Court will rule in early 2011 on whether to upheld the lower federal court’s ruling and force the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to decrease its inmate population.
The overcrowded conditions have been called “cruel and unusual” and cited as a driver behind prison riots, inadequate delivery of healthcare to inmates and inmate suicide.
If the court upholds the order, the corrections department might move some inmates to private prison facilities or county jails, or grant them early release, an option unpopular with voters.
California’s county jails are also crowded and have been reducing their inmate populations in recent years. Those jails currently house about 74,000 inmates, a 9 percent reduction in the population since the first quarter of 2009.
It is estimated that if Brown transfers 20,000 prisoners to county jails, it would double their sentenced populations and potentially overwhelm the facilities. About 30 percent of current county jail inmates have been sentenced.
In 2007, state lawmakers passed AB 900 to construct new jails and add 13,000 beds in California, but the state has so far failed to complete any of its proposed expansion projects.
Prison construction in the state has been stalled by lawsuits over environmental and financial concerns.