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California lawmakers may be forced to address prison overcrowding

August 07, 2013|By Phil Willon
  • Inmates at California State Prison in Lancaster in 2010.
Inmates at California State Prison in Lancaster in 2010. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

SACRAMENTO -- The leader of the California Senate on Wednesday said the Legislature would pay to house inmates out-of-state to comply with a federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding only if more money was set aside for inmate mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), in a news conference Wednesday morning, expressed frustration with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeal's end-of-the-year deadline to remove nearly 10,000 inmates from state lockups, and with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling rejecting Gov. Jerry Brown’s request for a delay.

“If the Legislature is called upon to appropriate more money for either local or out-of-state jail capacity that decision, if it comes, must be met with a comparable effort to invest in more substance abuse and mental health treatment," Steinberg said. “We should not do one without the other."

He said treating inmates for drug addiction and mental health problems has proven to reduce their odds of returning to prison -- which is part of the long-term solution to reducing overcrowding in prisons. The federal court order to empty prison cells is a short-term fix, he said.

“They’re not doing what it takes to reduce recidivism," Steinberg said.

The Senate reconvenes next week after its summer recess, and prison overcrowding is expected to be just one of many contentious issues that state lawmakers will be forced to wrestle with before they break for the year on Sept. 13.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) on Monday predicted "significant" conversations between legislative leaders and the governor's office in the coming days on the prison issue. Pérez said it was a difficult problem to address because the federal courts have invalidated past legislative action.

“We will only do what is reasonable, and the court cannot force us to do that which we believe is unreasonable,” he said Monday.

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Twitter: @philwillon

phil.willon@latimes.com

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