California prison officials are asking for court permission to keep its prisons filled to 145 percent of designed capacity. The request translates to about 5,900 inmates added to the U.S. Supreme Court population cap set in 2011, according to the Legislative Analyst Office.
In June 2013, officials say the prison population is projected to be at 141 percent of designed capacity, even after realignment has been fully implemented. Without a modification raising the final benchmark to 145 percent, alternatives such as continuing to house prisoners out-of-state will have to be considered, the plan warns.
Prison officials claim that by fully implementing their plan, called The Future of California Corrections, they will be able to “satisfy the Supreme Court’s order, end the class-action cases, maintain an effective prison system, and achieve significant savings.”
Officials expect the plan to accomplish the following:
• Classify a prisoner’s dangerousness so that it accurately reflects where that offender should be housed. Prison officials believe this will allow inmates improved access to rehabilitative programs.
• Bring back the out-of-state offenders to stop the $318 million of taxpayer dollars going to other states. However, according to a 2010 state audit, taxpayers will have to spend an additional $30 to $75 million annually to bring these prisoners back to California and house them in state prisons.
• Increase access to rehabilitative programs for offenders, which will in turn reduce recidivism by better preparing them to be productive members of society. In addition, the plan establishes reentry hubs at certain prisons. This will concentrate program resources and better prepare inmates as they get closer to being released. The plan creates enhanced programming facilities to reward prisoners who demonstrate positive behavioral patterns.
• Enact new and uniform staffing standards for each institution that will enable the department to operate more efficiently and safely.
The plan notes that CDCR scores from the Inspector General for medical care systems have been steadily improving. Furthermore, the capacity of the health care system will increase as the California Health Care Facility in Stockton, designed to house inmates requiring long-term medical care and intensive mental health treatment, will be completed during the summer of 2013.
Its annex, the DeWitt Nelson Youth Correctional Facility, will reopen in the summer of 2014 as an adult facility to create a unified Stockton complex, allowing both facilities to efficiently transition inmate patients between the two, while avoiding transportation and security costs as well as the need for expensive services in community hospitals and clinics. These projects, in addition to ongoing mental health, dental projects, and new plans to increase medical clinical capacity at existing prisons, will satisfy court imposed requirements, according to the plan.
The strategy still calls for over 27,000 special needs beds across 33 facilities statewide for offenders who are unable to effectively program in the general population. It also implements a new gang management strategy that modifies current procedures for identifying gang members and provides support for those wanting to disengage from gang involvement.
The plan calls for a reduction of 6,400 prison employees, including the elimination of 2,500 guard positions. As many as 257 academic and vocational instructors would be hired over the next two years, with heavy reliance on involvement from volunteer community-based organizations to provide the majority of self-help programs for prisoners.
Californians United for a Responsible Budget, an alliance of over 40 organizations that works to reduce prison spending, issued the following recommendations in response to The Future of California Corrections:
• Ensure that CDCR is held responsible for reaching the 137.5 percent reduction benchmark.
• Cancel all of the remaining prison and jail expansion funding, not just the $4.1 billion. Proposed in the plan.
• Reject the $810 million requested by CDCR to expand prisons.
• Stop the conversion of Valley State Prison for Women to a men’s prison and close it permanently.
• Stop the conversion of the Folsom Transitional Treatment Facility to a woman’s facility.
• Ensure that every person in prison has access to programming.
• Implement geriatric parole and expand compassionate release.
• Expand the Alternative Custody program to include women who have prior convictions classified as serious or violent, and remove its barriers to include male prisoners and the elderly.
CURB supports the plan to stop out-of-state transfers and the downgrading of prisoners’ classification levels.
–Richard Lindsey contributed to this story