LOS ANGELES — California Gov. Jerry Brown and the state’s legislative leaders held a joint press conference Monday afternoon announcing a compromise agreement on efforts to avoid a federal court order that could unlock the state prison gates for thousands of felons this year.
“This is an unusual occasion because we have the leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties standing in support of an amended bill that will definitely comply with the court’s order regarding our prisons,” Brown said at the press conference. “But, it will do so, while opening up the possibility for a longer term plan that will be more efficient and more balanced.”
The state has until Dec. 31 to hit the mark outlined by federal judges.
A three-judge federal panel has ruled that the lockups are unconstitutionally overcrowded, resulting in inadequate healthcare. In May 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling.
While the legislation provides an immediate path to compliance, it asks the court to modify its order to provide the state additional time to continue to develop and implement a more balanced and cost-effective prison policy, according to the governor’s office.
As amended, Senate Bill 105 would ask the court for more time, but authorizes up to $315 million to increase in-state and out-of-state capacity in the near term.
It requires that if the court modifies the order in a way that reduces the cost of compliance, the first $75 million in savings will go to reducing recidivism.
It lays the foundation for longer-term changes to the criminal justice system by strengthening existing local efforts outlined in SB 678, the state’s realignment plan adopted in 2011.
The idea behind that measure was to manage offenders by increasing the amount of funding that county probation departments receive if they can serve felony probationers locally and keep them from returning to the prison system.
It also resulted in criminals housed in state prisons being moved to county jails -- and was seen by many local officials as just shifting the problem to the local level.
State legislators spent last week wrangling over competing plans.
The plan introduced by the governor and state legislative leaders was deemed too short-term in its approach by the state legislative analysts’ office.
The competing plan proposed by Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg contained long-term solutions, according to the LAO, but did nothing that would help California meet the Dec. 31 court deadline.
The governor’s plan that was backed by Assembly Speaker John Perez, Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff and Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, focused on spending $315 million the first year to expand capacity by 12,500 primarily by locking prisoners up in private and out-of-state prisons and county jails.
Steinberg’s plan, in contrast, focused on improving and creating more programs to deal with recidivism through rehabilitation.
Brown introduced Steinberg saying the state senator should explain the plan since he spent the weekend working on a compromise proposal.
“The plan essentially is that the capacity-only approach is the default approach,” Steinberg said. “If the court does not issue a modified order than the capacity plan will go into effect.”
State legislators are asking the court to modify its order to allow California to invest in a more “durable and sustainable approach to our problem.”
Steinberg’s plan would use savings that doesn’t go for additional prison beds to bolster the state’s efforts through SB 678. Perez asked the court to consider what the state already has accomplished through SB 678 rather than using an arbitrary number to determine the impact of prison overcrowding.
“The court could do what it should have been doing, which is to evaluate the impact of the changes we already have made,” Perez said. “We have eliminated triple bunking and no longer have prisoners sleeping in gymnasiums. Any change in that number [set by the court] would free up more money to rehabilitate prisoners.”
Conway added that the compromise plan does “not allow any state prisoners out on the streets, which is very important to all of our constituents.”