California prison overcrowding deadline down to the wire

June 7, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A court-ordered deadline to relieve jail overcrowding in California is coming down to the wire and so far there is no solid plan to remedy the situation. Indecision in Sacramento could put thousands of prisoners back on the streets.

Gov. Jerry Brown does have a plan to move tens of thousands of state prisoners down to the local level, but the problem is there is no money to do it.

"We really are out of time and we're out of room, so we've got to get this done," Calif. Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate said.

As affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court last month, California must reduce its overcrowded prison population so that health care meets Constitutional standards -- 10,000 by late November and another 23,000 in two years.

In response to the reduction order, the state outlined a plan to shift thousands of inmates to county jails. The problem is, paying for it is contingent on the temporary tax hikes Brown wants to extend for five more years under Assembly Bill 109, a move that Republicans refuse to approve.

"If 109 is not funded and 109 is not implemented, then we're in trouble," Cate said.

Critics say the shaky funding will not satisfy the court, which noted California has had decades to fix the overcrowding problem.

"If California comes back to the three-judge panel with another plan that says, 'Hey, we're hopeful for some magical funding,' I think the judges are going to say, 'Get real, denied,'" Taxpayers For Improving Public Safety spokesperson Matt Gray said.

Without a real solution and only five months to meet the first deadline, a scary option is on the table.

ABC7: "Is the court able to order releases?"

Matthew Cate: "Yes."

Even if the Legislature comes up with the money to shift some low level offenders to county jail, Republicans say the plan is dangerous. Many county jails are already crowded and some jurisdictions will have to release their own inmates early to make room for the state prisoners.

"The prison plan relies heavily on dumping inmates and parolees into our communities, putting our citizens at risk," Assm. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said.

Cate also talked about deporting prisoners who are illegal immigrants, but that would involve shortening their sentences to start the deportation process at the Brown administration is not yet willing to go in that direction.

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