Governor Jerry Brown, flanked by Democratic and Republican lawmakers and a host of law enforcement groups, announced a plan to spend $315 million to comply with a court order to create more prison space.
The cost could go up to $700 million for two years, much of it coming from the state’s $1 billion emergency reserve fund.
“It’s going to cost some money, make no doubt about it … Public safety is the priority and we’ll take care of it, the money is there,” said Brown.
Cell space would be rented from out-of-state prisons, empty county jails and private prisons. The plan goes counter to a policy of reducing the use of out-of-state facilities.
Brown said the alternative is to allow 10,000 prison inmates to go free. Assembly Speaker John Perez says the plan will be shepherded through the legislature before the session ends in two weeks.
“Nobody would prioritize doing this except for the courts,” said Perez.
A federal court set a December deadline for action, saying the state dragged its feet for years to relieve overcrowding and provide better health care to prisoners. The state disagrees, saying it has reduced the prison population by 40,000 inmates over the last 6 years and that prison conditions have improved greatly. But the deadline is not affected by any court appeals being taken by the state.
The governor says long-term efforts to reduce the prison population would be discussed along with the expansion plan.
Noticeably absent from the broad-based group with the Governor at his press conference was Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who is not supporting the plan. He is a long time supporter of restoring social service budgets that have been cut during state budget crises over the years. Supporters hope that he’ll reconsider as the bill is fine-tuned in a special committee that will consider the proposal.