SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Jerry Brown's administration on Tuesday said the governor's stalled plan to shift thousands of inmates from state prisons to local jails will eventually relieve inmate overcrowding, meeting a U.S. Supreme Court order to slash California's prison population.
The administration acknowledged it needs state lawmakers' support and might not meet the court's initial goal of cutting the prison population by more than 10,000 inmates by the end of November. But it did not request a delay.
"What we've said is we're going to move forward with this plan and we'll ask for more time if we need it," Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate said at a news conference.
The latest count shows California's 33 prisons housing 143,565 inmates in space designed for fewer than 80,000, meaning the prisons are at 180 percent of their design capacity.
In an order late last month, the Supreme Court gave California two years to remove more than 33,000 inmates after the justices ruled easing congestion is the only way to improve unconstitutionally poor inmate medical and mental health care. The Supreme Court ruling upheld an order by a three-judge panel overseeing the prison crowding lawsuits against the state.
The administration's response outlined all the steps the state has taken in recent years to reduce its prison population, including sending about 10,000 inmates to other states. But its compliance with the recent order hinges almost entirely on plans that Brown signed into law in April to shift responsibility for thousands of lower-level inmates to counties.
The shift cannot take effect unless local governments get the money to provide jail cells and rehabilitation services, and funding for that remains stalled in the state Legislature. Republican lawmakers have blocked Brown's proposal for an extension of temporary tax increases that are set to expire by the end of this month.
Renewing the recent increases in the vehicle, sales and personal income taxes is essential to funding Brown's plan to shift low-level offenders to county jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court had indicated that it might consider a request for a delay in its order, which includes benchmarks in reducing overcrowding along the way, but Cate said it was too soon for that.
"It would be irresponsible to say we're going to do nothing, go back to the same three judges and cross our fingers," Cate said.
The receiver appointed to oversee health care in the prisons also called on the Legislature to approve funding, both for realignment and for construction of more prison space.
"We have well-defined and prudent plans to continue work in meeting the court mandate to reduce the population and improve inmate health care, which includes adding much-needed capacity through construction of health care facilities, renovation of existing institutions and the Governor's realignment plan," receiver J. Clark Kelso said in a statement. "I will continue to work collaboratively with state and legislative leadership to resolve the issues we face, but the time to make those tough decisions is now."
Nick Warner, legislative director of the California State Sheriffs' Association, said he hadn't seen the state's response to the court and could not immediately comment.
Associations representing California counties — which run the jails that would receive the inmates — and the state's police chiefs voiced continued support for Brown's plan, assuming the necessary funding is made available.
"The Governor's plan for realignment can work ... if it's funded," said Dave Maggard, president of the California Police Chiefs' Association.
The Supreme Court ruling "made funding realignment absolutely essential and urgent," he said. "We hope that the Legislature agrees with us and will act quickly."
"What we heard today was pretty much in line with what we expected," said Erin Treadwell, spokeswoman for the California State Association of Counties. "Realignment is the most logical choice as far as how to deal with (the court order). We need to get that to the public for a vote as quickly as possible."
Brown has insisted that any tax extensions be approved by voters, even though the same number of votes would be needed to extend the taxes in the Legislature as would be needed to put them on the ballot. Some fear work on realignment would begin and voters would reject the tax extensions.
"We expect the voters to agree to it" when they hear all the arguments, Tate said.
"If the voters turn this down," Treadwell said, "it throws this into another world. ... I'm not a very good soothsayer of Armageddon."
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