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State prisons chief calls plan to reduce crowding 'ugly'

May 03, 2013|By Chris Megerian
  • Inmates lined up along a wall are reflected in a convex mirror mounted in a cellblock hallway at Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy.
Inmates lined up along a wall are reflected in a convex mirror mounted in… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

SACRAMENTO -- Jeffrey Beard, secretary for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the court-ordered plan filed by the Brown administration Thursday night to reduce prison crowding would force the state to take measures he and other officials do not support while still failing to meet the population cap demanded by federal judges.

"The plan is ugly,” Beard said of the proposal filed late Thursday night, after Gov. Jerry Brown and other administration officials were threatened with contempt for not doing enough to reduce crowding. “We don't like it. But ... it's the best plan we could come up with."

Even with the plan, Beard said, the state will fall short of the court's target of lowering the inmate population by more than 9,000.

Beard said that the judges are fixated on an arbitrary number rather than considering improvements in the prison system that have mitigated dangerous conditions for inmates that existed when court intervention began years ago. The federal judges, who have overseen a series of cases involving California lockups, have ordered the state to cut its prison population to ensure that inmates are receiving adequate healthcare to prevent unnecessary deaths.  

"The state has transformed the prison healthcare system into one of the best in the nation," Beard said. "This is about more than a number. The case is too important to the people of California, to the safety of our neighborhoods."

Beard, who acknowledged at a news conference Friday morning that the state’s plan falls short of the court's target of 137.5% of the capacity the prisons were designed to hold, was asked if state officials could avoid being held in contempt. "I certainly hope so," he said. "We can't do any more without creating problems."

The Brown administration has reduced inmate numbers since October 2011, partly by keeping some low-level offenders in county custody rather than ub state lockups, but that has not been enough to meet the court-imposed population cap. Under the administration’s latest plan, filed in court late Thursday night, hundreds of elderly and medically frail inmates could be released early, those who earn time off credits for good behavior might also be freed early, and other offenders would be housed in private lockups or state fire camps.

Beard has said that the state does not have the option of sending more inmates into the custody of counties, which are already straining to accommodate the felons sent their way to date. In the court papers filed Thursday night, administration officials said they oppose most of the options presented in the plan they presented to the court, warning they could "jeopardize public safety." 

But the judges, in their April order, said the state will not be permitted to fall short of the court-ordered target. 

“That is not the way the judicial system, or any other national system, functions,” they wrote. “Indeed, the effectiveness of the Order thus far is not an argument for vacating it, but rather an argument for keeping it in effect and continuing to make progress toward reaching its ultimate goal.”


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