SACRAMENTO -- California's Legislative leaders on Wednesday hammered out a compromise for expanding the state's severely crowded prisons.
The two-phase plan would spend $7.7 billion in mostly bond money to add 53,000 beds to existing prisons and county jails, create new community facilities, and fund rehabilitation programs.
It will be brought to the Assembly and Senate for approval today.
Orange County accounts for about 12,000 or 7 percent of the state's 172,000 prisoners. State prisons are intended to hold, at most, about 155,000 inmates. The plan could add beds to Orange County's jails and create a local "re-entry" facility to ease prisoners back into the community.
The plan includes $7.4 billion in funds from lease-revenue bonds, which don't require government approval, to add 16,000 beds in state prisons, 16,000 beds in community "re-entry" facilities, 13,000 beds in county jails and 8,000 beds for health care needs.
The deal also allows Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to continue his strategy of transferring thousands of inmates out of state.
The plan would add 25,000 fewer beds and costs $3.2 billion less than a proposal pushed by the governor in December.
The governor and Legislature are under pressure to solve overcrowding in California's prisons, with federal judges threatening early release of inmates if they do not.
The building program and other reforms would be in two phases. If the second phase isn't under way by 2014, authorization for the money would end.
In addition to the new space for prisoners, lawmakers want to tap the state general fund for $350 million to pay for infrastructure improvements and $50 million for rehabilitation, drug treatment and vocational education programs. The deal also would create a California Rehabilitation Oversight Board to ensure inmates get the help they need to transition back to society.
The deal would accommodate a state inmate population that is expected to swell to 190,000 by 2012, the legislative leaders said.
Legislative leaders said they wanted to present a prison-reform plan to U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson of San Francisco by mid-May. Henderson is one of three federal judges forcing prison reform in California, and each has scheduled June hearings to decide whether overcrowding is violating inmates' constitutional rights.
The judges could stop convicts from being sent to state prisons or order the early release of inmates if they are not satisfied that the state is taking adequate steps to ease the overcrowding.
A variety of lawsuits has placed many aspects of California's prison operations under federal oversight, including employee discipline, parole and the treatment of sick and mentally ill inmates.
Federal judges have said the persistent overcrowding is at the core of many of the system's problems, especially its poor health care and a high rate of inmate suicides.
In October, Schwarzenegger took a step to help solve the overcrowding when he ordered inmates shipped to private prisons in other states.
A Sacramento County judge subsequently ruled that the transfers overstepped the governor's emergency powers and violated a provision in the state Constitution that prohibits using private companies for jobs usually performed by state workers. The administration is appealing the ruling.
The plan reached Wednesday gives the governor permission to transfer up to 8,000 inmates out of state for up to three years. It was not immediately clear what effect that would have on the court case.
As reported in the 6/21/07 issue of Time magazine's article on Californicate's Growing Prison Crisis, the plan passed by the state legislature in Sacramento a couple of months ago, will undergo review by a federal panel of judges convening today, June 27th.