California Governor Jerry Brown proposed to spend $315 million from state reserves this year to meet a federal court order to reduce overcrowding in the state’s prisons.
The state would lease a private prison in the Mojave Desert owned by Corrections Corp. of America and pay for more private beds in other states and in local county jails, Brown told reporters. The spending would wipe out almost a third of the $1 billion reserve he and fellow Democrats built into the $96.3 billion budget they passed in June.
“In the short term, this meets the court order,” said Brown, a 75-year-old Democrat. “This is the sensible, prudent course.”
The announcement came three weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Brown’s bid to delay a lower court’s order to reduce California’s prison population to 137.5 percent of design capacity by Dec. 31. Without additional space, Brown had said the state would be forced to release almost 10,000 inmates.
Federal judges seized control of the state’s prison health system in 2006, saying inmate care was so bad it amounted to cruel and usual punishment and violated the Constitution. The judges cited cramped conditions where inmates were lodged in gyms and dayrooms because there weren’t enough cells.
California has lowered the count by 43,000 since 2006 and spent $1 billion on improving care and conditions, according to the governor’s office.
Prisons take the fourth-biggest bite of California’s budget, at $11.2 billion this fiscal year, behind schools and colleges, health and welfare, and transportation, according to the Finance Department.
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