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Senate Democratic leaders object to governor's prison plan

August 27, 2013|By Patrick McGreevy
  • State Sen. Mark Leno, DSan Francisco, chair of the Senate budget committee, right, at a recent news conference on the budget with Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, DSacramento. Both say the governor's prison plan is inadequate.
State Sen. Mark Leno, DSan Francisco, chair of the Senate budget committee,… (Rich Pedroncelli / AP )

Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to expand the number of prison cells to meet a court order faced opposition Tuesday from Democratic leaders of the state Senate.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) was noticeably absent from the news conference by the governor and legislators.

The Senate leader has previously said he would not support a plan that only expands prison space without also providing more money for mental health and drug treatment programs that can reduce the number of parolees who return to prison.

Steinberg issued a statement Tuesday in which he said the Senate Democratic Caucus will submit its own plan Wednesday.

 “The governor’s proposal is a plan with no promise and no hope,” Steinberg said. “As the population of California grows, it's only a short matter of time until new prison cells overflow and the court demands mass releases again. For every 10 prisoners finishing their sentences, nearly seven of them will commit another crime after release and end up back behind bars.”

Steinberg has support among Senate Democrats for a broader approach. Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) said that the plan put forward by the governor is inadequate and that he will not support it. It requires $315 million this year and $400 million in future years, said Leno, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

“That is a huge sum of money to be spent on a nonsolution,” Leno said. “I could not support a solution to the court mandate that is based only on greater capacity. And that’s all I see in this proposal, greater capacity.”

Leno said any plan should include greater effort to reduce the recidivism rate, including a revision of the sentencing structure. “If we have learned anything over the past 30 years of criminal justice policy leading to this crisis,  it’s that we cannot incarcerate our way out of it,” Leno said. “It doesn’t appear that the proposal deals with the core problems that we have, which are clearly in our sentencing structure and our lack of investment in preventing recidivism.”

Brown signaled that he wants to deal with the prison expansion issue first, but said he was willing to “work on longer-term potential changes,” which he said include local drug treatment and mental health programs.

 Asked why Steinberg wasn’t there, Brown said the pro tem was in a meeting of the Senate Democratic Caucus. But Senate officials said that meeting ended about 1:30 p.m., well before Brown’s announcement.


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