Inmates walk around a recreation yard at the Deuel Vocational Institution… (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)
SACRAMENTO -- The American Civil Liberties Union of California is asking Gov. Jerry Brown to go public on what are currently behind-closed-doors discussions concerning how the state will comply with court orders to reduce prison crowding.
Brown has said only that it will cost California hundreds of millions of dollars to bring the state's prison population down to levels ordered by federal judges. His top prison officials have said they plan to expand the system by leasing space from public and private facilities, both in and out of state.
Details of the plans are being hashed out away from public view -- even Assembly Budget Committee Chairwoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) said last week that she was in the dark on the matter.
[Updated, 11:28 a.m. PDT Aug. 26: Brown's office would not respond to questions about the lack of public discussion. Instead, said spokesman Jim Evans, "the administration is working on a range of options with the Legislature to comply [with] the court order while maintaining public safety."]
"It is crucial this policy receive a complete and thorough review giving constituents and stakeholders a chance to express their opinions," ACLU of California officials Francisco Lobaco and Kimberly Horiuchi wrote in a joint letter delivered to Brown late Friday. They called for public legislative hearings.
They argued that Brown is about to make an "ill-advised expenditure of critical tax dollars" to fix problems present for a long time.
"California now sits in this unenviable position because it failed to address a prison crisis that is now into its third decade," they wrote. "This is not an instance where an overbearing federal court is placing unreasonable demands on our state."
The ACLU wants the governor to consider the same prison alternatives he had proposed months earlier under protest to federal judges: parole of frail and elderly prisoners and expansion of the sentence reductions prisoners earn for good behavior and participating in rehabilitation programs.
The ACLU letter contends that there was extensive testimony in court, including from the man now in charge of California prisons, that those measures do not threaten public safety.
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