On the same week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California prisons are unconstitutionally overcrowded, San Quentin and New Folsom prisons broke out in riots involving over 350 prisoners, leaving at least four hospitalized.
“As we work to carry out the court’s ruling, I will take all steps necessary to protect public safety,” said, Gov. Jerry Brown, “These offenders will be returning to our communities perhaps sooner than we’d planned.”
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Secretary, Matthew Cate issued a press release, “California’s inmate population has been reduced to levels not seen since 1995, and non-traditional beds have been eliminated by nearly 13,000. We’ve come a long way in both population reduction measures and in the quality of care given to inmates.”
State Senator Loni Hancock told the San Francisco Chronicle, “Our prison system is an expensive failure. It is a threat to both public safety and the financial well-being of California. It cost $49,000 a year to keep a person locked up in California prison – almost seven times what we spend on each child in our public schools – yet California is getting a disappointing return on our huge investment of tax dollars in corrections.”
National Public Radio’s (KALW) Rina Palta interviewed Secretary Cate regarding CDCR’s plan to comply with the landmark decision capping the prison population at 110,000.
As California severely cut spending for public schools, social services and health programs, the new state budget provides nearly $5.6 billion in sales tax revenue and other money to pay for Gov. Brown’s “realignment” plan that keeps 40,000 felons convicted after Oct. 1 in the county jails for supervision while simultaneously reducing parole oversight for prisoners with low-level, non-serious, non-violent crimes.
“Nobody who is currently in prison right now will be released to the local community,” said Erin Sasse, chief of external affairs for CDCR.
“The sheriffs say they have about 10,000 beds that are either vacant today or could be put into use if they had the funds to hire the staff to support those facilities…that will take up the first big portion of it,” Cate said. He also indicated that another 10,000 beds may come from fire camps and community correctional facilities.
California District Attorney Association spokesperson Scott Thorpe says a bigger worry is whether “realignment” would crowd county jails.
Thorpe said, “There are some counties who literally don’t have the beds, so they don’t have the physical facilities and the realignment doesn’t provide enough money to build jails quick[ly] enough. There are other jails that have the beds, but they don’t have the funding for the personnel so they can’t put people in some of those beds.”
“We currently are under capacity but we will be at, or over capacity in approximately 90 days after realignment goes into effect,” said San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey.
NOT ENOUGH SPACE
Imperial County jail officials reported that they do not know how many low-risk offenders will be housed locally as the state plan to reduce prison populations get underway.
“We don’t have enough bed space as it is,” Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff said.
“Pushing inmates back to overcrowded county jails guarantees that neighborhoods in Riverside County will again be threatened by criminals in the justice system needed to be locked up for years to come,” Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert, said in a statement.
More than a dozen Lassen County Jail personnel will be receiving layoff notices because the state did not renew a contract with the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office to operate the Lassen Community Correction Facility run from a portion of the jail.
When asked about the future of CDCR, Cate said, “I want to take the model that we have at San Quentin where we have over a thousand visitors who are in and out of that prison all the time, providing services and try to replicate that throughout the state. It’s going to be much harder to do that in Blythe, or in some parts of the Central Valley that are rural. But nonetheless, with all these budget cuts we’ve got to open up the prisons, bring in volunteers. And I think it’s great for the culture of the prison, I think it’s great for the inmates. Inmate idleness is a huge problem. But, ultimately if you look at the other models around the country or Europe, in other parts of the world, they’re going to this open-prison model and I’d like to see more of that involvement by the communities and what we’re doing in corrections.”