Pubdate: Tue, 27 Jun 2006
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Page: A-1, Front Page
Copyright: 2006 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Mark Martin, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
Note: From Newshawk: Contact the Gov. at 
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Schwarzenegger Orders a Special Legislative Session to Tackle Chronic 

Sacramento -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared California's prison 
system dangerously overcrowded Monday and ordered a special 
legislative session to enact proposals to build new prisons and shift 
thousands of inmates from mostly rural prisons into new housing units 
in urban areas.

Less than a week after a court-appointed watchdog blasted the 
governor for abandoning prison reform, Schwarzenegger guaranteed a 
spotlight on prisons this year by calling for the special session, 
which will begin today and will allow bills to advance through the 
legislative process more quickly.

But administration officials conceded they had no legislation ready 
and details of the proposals -- such as how much the governor wants 
to spend and how many new cells they hope to create -- were not 
available. Some lawmakers reacted with skepticism.

"It seems like a rather obvious response to the report from last 
week," said Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, chairman of the 
Assembly's Public Safety Committee.

Speaking at a conference of state district attorneys in Newport 
Beach, Schwarzenegger characterized jam-packed prisons as being in 
crisis and warned that courts could take over the system and "order 
the early release of tens of thousands of prisoners."

He noted that a system designed to hold about 100,000 inmates houses 
more than 171,000, and more than 16,000 inmates are sleeping in gyms, 
dayrooms and other areas of lockups not intended for housing.

The governor proposed a four-pronged approach: building at least two 
new prisons; enacting rules to suspend some state laws to allow the 
new prisons to be built quickly; shifting 4,500 female inmates from 
prisons to community-based facilities closer to their families; and 
opening new facilities designed to help male inmates adjust to life 
outside prison.

The new housing for male inmates would serve inmates about to be 
paroled and would provide them with programs to help them get jobs 
and steer clear of crime.

The re-entry proposal and the idea to move some female prisoners 
would be a major change for the system, creating thousands of spots 
for inmates who would receive services like drug rehabilitation and 
job training that are not widely available in prisons. It could also 
shift a substantial number of inmates from rural areas, where most 
prisons are located, to urban areas, where the bulk of the prison 
population comes from.

That could lead to battles with local governments and residents about 
where the new facilities are located. Administration officials said 
the new lockups could house as many as 500 people. Acting Corrections 
Secretary Jim Tilton said he hoped to locate them in warehouse 
districts, not residential areas, and he admitted that finding sites 
for the mini-prisons would be a significant issue.

New community prisons could be built or run by private companies, 
although Tilton said state prison guards would provide security.

Schwarzenegger said his proposals were aimed at two critical 
problems: overcrowding and a recidivism rate he called the highest in 
the nation, noting that 70 percent of inmates end up back in prison.

The new proposals mark at least the third time Schwarzenegger has 
tried to revamp state prisons.

His administration promised to reduce the inmate population in 2004 
when it unveiled changes to parole policy intended to send parolees 
who failed drug tests or committed other parole violations to 
programs instead of back to prison. But that idea was scrapped amid 
opposition from victims' rights groups and the state's prison guards 
union and after Schwarzenegger's corrections secretary admitted the 
proposal was not well thought out.

Last year, the governor proposed a bureaucratic reshuffling that 
changed the name of the corrections department and gave more clout to 
the head of the department.

Legislators were quick to remember those moves.

"The track record of the department of corrections has not been 
stellar," said Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, who acts as the 
Assembly Republicans lead negotiator on prison issues. "They've come 
up with reforms in the past, where they weren't capable of implementing them."

Spitzer said he would evaluate the new proposals with significant skepticism.

Schwarzenegger has pitched some of the proposals before. He included 
prison-building in his January proposal to issue bonds for new roads, 
schools and levees, and he also proposed moving some female inmates 
out of prisons.

The Legislature balked at both ideas, and whether there will be more 
interest now remains to be seen.

Some lawmakers said more policy changes were needed to lower the 
inmate population.

"We can look at bricks and mortar, but we have to look at sentencing 
reform and parole reform -- that's where change is needed," said 
state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, who carried unsuccessful 
legislation this year that would have amended the state's 
three-strikes law to lessen the use of lengthy sentences for some 
non-violent offenses.

Romero was also critical of the governor's proposal Monday to use a 
specific type of bond, called a lease-revenue bond, to build prisons 
that wouldn't require voter approval. The bonds could be issued with 
approval from lawmakers.

"That's just a way of getting around voters, with polls showing no 
one is interested in building more prisons," she said.

A spokesman for the prison guards union, which has considerable clout 
in the Legislature, reacted more positively.

"Given the overcrowding, this is a welcome signal from the 
administration," said Lance Corcoran, executive vice president of the 
California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

Administration officials said they had been contemplating calling a 
special session on prisons for several weeks and denied the 
announcement Monday was a response to the report issued last week. In 
the report, a special master working for U.S. District Judge Thelton 
Henderson criticized Schwarzenegger for bowing to pressure from the 
state's politically powerful prison guards union and warned that the 
governor was retreating from reforms.

The governor was quickly attacked Monday by his adversary in this 
year's gubernatorial election, who noted that calling a special 
session would likely allow bills to become law only one month earlier 
than they would have under the normal legislative process.

State Treasurer Phil Angelides said Schwarzenegger was taking 
cosmetic action after presiding over a "meltdown of a prison system 
that is threatening our public safety."

Angelides offered no specifics as to how he would fix the system if 
elected, however, saying he would conduct an audit after taking 
office and then come up with a plan.



Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called Monday for a special session of the 
Legislature to deal with state prisons. He proposes four ideas for 
lawmakers to consider:

. Issuing bonds to pay for new prisons.

. Suspending of state construction laws to speed prison building.

. Moving 4,500 nonviolent female inmates from prisons to 
community-based facilities.

. Moving male inmates who are about to be released on parole into new 
housing units designed to help them adjust to life in their communities.
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