Pubdate: Wed, 21 Mar 2007
Source: Auburn Journal (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Gold Country Media
Author: Jenna Nielsen


Calif. Facilities Hold Nearly Twice The Inmate Capacity

The state's Republican lawmakers have called on the Legislature to 
act immediately on California's worsening prison overcrowding crisis.

At a press conference held Tuesday at the State Capitol, Senate and 
Assembly members suggesting tackling the problem by making it easier 
to use available bed space as well as transfer prisoners out-of-state.

"We have been trying to give the impression to the Legislature and 
the governor that we need to come up with a solution now," 
Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville said after the conference. "If we 
don't the courts will do it for us and the result would be the 
release of thousands of prisoners and that's scary."

California's prisons were designed for 100,000 inmates but hold 
nearly twice that number.

The overcrowding is the subject of three separate lawsuits filed in 
federal courts throughout Northern California.

One of the judges has set a mid-May deadline for the state to produce 
a plan to deal with the crowding.

Two judges said they could seek to cap the inmate population, leading 
to the early release of inmates or keeping convicts longer in county 
jails, unless the state acts to solve the overcrowding.

Options for an immediate fix are few.

Schwarzenegger has recommended an $11 billion prison and jail 
building program, as well as a review of sentencing guidelines, but 
both will take months if not years to have any effect.

In October, he ordered the transfer of thousands of inmates to 
private prisons in other states.

Last month, however, a state judge ruled the transfers were illegal, 
in part because they violated a state constitutional provision 
against contracting work to private companies. The state plans to 
appeal that decision.

Two weeks ago, Schwarzenegger and Democratic leaders met urgently in 
Sacramento to discuss solutions to the overcrowding crisis.

Advisers to the governor and legislators have been meeting 
periodically since then but have reported little progress in reaching 
a consensus.

"We must do everything in our power to find available space to 
relieve prison overcrowding," said Sen. George Runner, R-Antelope 
Valley. "That includes empowering the Governor with the ability to 
address this crisis."

Republicans called on the Legislature Tuesday to pass measures that 
would make it easier for the Governor and the California Department 
of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop temporary housing at 
underused state facilities, jails and community correctional facilities.

"We must give the Governor all of the tools necessary to deal with 
the prison overcrowding problem including amending laws to make it 
easier to transfer prisoners out-of-state," said Sen. Roy Ashburn, 
R-Bakersfield. "The Capitol should never be a barrier to exporting 
prisoners out-of-state." Additionally, Republicans have identified 
some previously closed community correctional facilities as well as 
some existing sites that cannot house inmates due to regulatory issues.

"Prison reform must include mitigation measures to lessen adverse 
impacts on surrounding communities," said Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks. 
"It is inherently unfair for the State of California to dump its 
prisoners into small rural towns and not consider the adverse effects 
prisons have on nearby communities."

Legislative Republicans have said they will also push for expanding 
existing prison facilities to permanently increase the number of 
prison beds in order to more closely meet the diverse needs of the 
inmate population, including medical and mental health needs. The 
last two prisons built were Delano II (authorized in 1999 and 
activated in 2005) and the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and 
State Prison at Corcoran (authorized in 1993 and activated in 1997).

"We are rapidly running out of room in our state's prisons for one 
simple reason - lawmakers have failed to build more prison space," 
said Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian, R-Stockton. "The consequences 
before us are real and we must act today to ensure dangerous, repeat 
criminals are not given a get-out-of-jail early card because the 
Legislature ignored the problem."

With impending May and June court deadlines, the Legislature and the 
Governor have little time to come up with a short term solution or 
else there is a high likelihood that the federal courts will release 
prisoners early.

"I am hopeful that both parties will get together and put a plan in 
place," Gaines said. "We need to work together with the Governor to 
act and not continue to sit on our hands and let this crisis erupt before us."
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman