The Legislative Analysts Office–that body of state number crunchers who give non-partisan assessments of whether proposed and new laws would do what they claim and how much they would cost–doesn’t think we’re out of the woods on complying with the federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding.
As a refresher, a panel of three federal judges ordered California to lighten its prison system, either by reducing the number of prisoners or building more space to house them. Because of the budgetary situation in California, the state decided that reducing the population would be the most feasible option. So Governor Jerry Brown took a plan to the legislature, now known as AB 109 or “realignment,” aimed at reducing California’s prison population by 34,000 inmates before the end of June 2013 (the court-imposed deadline). That plan calls for a few things, the biggest one being that starting October 1 of this year, people convicted of certain non-violent, non-serious felonies and most parole violators will serve their sentences in county jail instead of state prison. That shift is expected to go a long way towards permanently freeing up space in California’s prisons.
According to Friday’s LAO report, however, AB 109 and a set of supplementary measures already underway are not sufficient to get California where it needs to go in time. Realignment goes a long way, the LAO says, but “it may fall several thousand inmates short of meeting the requirements within the deadlines.”
There are several things the state can do to get into compliance, the LAO suggests, from extending its use of out-of-state facilities (something Brown has said he does not want to do) to asking the federal court for more time to comply (something the US Supreme Court suggested would be fair).
In addition to cautioning the administration to not be too optimistic about realignment, the LAO report encouraged the legislature to take an active role in overseeing a ”careful implementation of criminal justice realignment.” The legislature, the LAO suggested, needs to make sure California is meeting its deadlines. It also needs to make sure that a backlog of criminal justice policy comes up to date with post-realignment reality. Namely, if the state reduces its prison population by such a large amount, the LAO writes, then the legislature should re-examine its prison construction plans to see what kind of new facilities it really needs to build. In 2007, AB 900 authorized about $6.5 billion in new construction. Not many projects have actually been approved (and only one, a medical facility in Stockton, is on the verge of construction), but Brown has indicated that those AB 900 funds will be used. The LAO report is a reminder to the legislature to research and examine the need for any new facilities–the operational cost of which could come to some $1.6 billion a year.
Read the full report here.