Governor Brown, Senate Clash On Prison Spending - KMSP-TV

Governor Brown, Senate Clash On Prison Spending

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Sacramento, CA -

(FOX 11 / AP) Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to deal with a federal court order to lower the state's prison population faces an uncertain future in the state Legislature because of opposition from key members of his own political party.

If lawmakers fail to reach agreement quickly, they risk having federal judges override state law and take the step that is opposed by the governor, lawmakers and law enforcement — releasing 9,600 felons by the end of the year.

While Brown has support from three of the four legislative leaders of both political parties, Senate Democrats led by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg are pushing their own competing solution.

They plan to present their alternative Wednesday to Brown's proposal to spend more than $300 million this year to temporarily rent thousands of prison cells.

The senators are expected to seek a delay in the court-ordered Dec. 31 deadline while the state increases spending on rehabilitation programs that proponents say would solve the state's long-term problem by keeping more criminals out of prison.

Steinberg, of Sacramento, was the lone legislative leader to avoid Brown's news conference on Tuesday. He immediately issued a statement saying that the plan had "no promise and no hope."

Brown's proposal "would suggest we've not learned anything from the past 30 years," said Sen. Mark Leno, D-Los Angeles, one of Steinberg's top lieutenants. "We cannot incarcerate our way out of it. A solution that is only about more beds does not get to the core of the problem."

Leno, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, called Brown's plan to spend $765 million over two years on temporary prison beds "a huge amount of money to spend on a non-solution." The money would likely to come from a $1.1 billion reserve fund in the state budget.

Better to spend the money on mental health and drug treatment, education and job training, and programs that would help prevent parolees from committing new crimes, he said. It would take years to see the results of those efforts, Leno acknowledged, which he said would require attorneys representing inmates to agree to push back the year-end deadline and persuade federal judges to go along.

Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office, would not confirm that his office is in negotiations to delay the court-ordered deadline. But he, too, criticized Brown's proposal as "just more of the same failed policies that got us into this mess in the first place.

"It's really pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into what the governor called the 'rat hole' (of prison spending) just a few months ago," Specter said.

If Brown, the state Legislature and inmates' attorneys can't reach agreement, a special panel of federal judges has already said it will force the state to release less-serious offenders in order to reduce the prison population to about 110,000 inmates. The court has previously said that level is necessary to improve care for sick and mentally ill inmates.

Brown is appealing the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, but a ruling would not come until next year and the high court has already upheld the lower panel's authority to order releases.

The governor argued that California has already reduced the prison population by some 46,000 inmates to comply with the court's orders and said only the most dangerous convicts remain in state prison.

He had support from both Republican leaders and from Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, who promised to pass the governor's proposal out of the Assembly. An Assembly committee will begin reviewing the governor's plan on Thursday.

"Our obligation to the people of California is clear. Public safety is of the upmost important and we will not do a single thing that will put us in a position of releasing a single extra prisoner," Perez said.

Steinberg said in a statement that his members also oppose early releases.

"We're in agreement that any mass release of inmates is not in the public interest," Brown spokesman Jim Evans said in an emailed response to Steinberg's statement.

From Hal Eisner:

I want to take you back to 1928. On 100 acres of land in Norco a huge luxurious hotel was constructed. It was called the Lake Norconian Hotel. When I think of the parties that must have gone on in the grand ballroom "The Great Gatsby" comes to mind. I'm told this was a place the Hollywood elite would check into for getaways. It was all about luxury and amenities. There was an airstrip, golf course, indoor and outdoor pools, a man-made lake and more. In the years that followed it was purchased by the state and became Norco Prison. No luxurious rooms just cells. Inmates actually living in parts of what was the grand old hotel.

When it was announced in 2012 that Norco Prison would be shuttered as part of a state prison reorganization to save 1.5 billion dollars Kathy Aceveda was thrilled. She's the Mayor of Norco. She wants to see the Lake Norconian Hotel restored to it's grandeur. She says it would help the economy. The Mayor says right now, the city gets nothing for having a prison there. With a hotel they would get room taxes. The city would also have something incredible to showcase. Her reaction to hearing Governor Brown's new plan to keep Norco Prison open to help ease overcrowded prisons? "Very disappointed," she told me. She says there have been major developers looking at the restoration of the hotel. She says she thought progress was being made on shutting down the prison. No doubt, she'll be hoping Governor Brown's plan fails.

For it to succeed the legislature must approve. Hearings will begin tomorrow on the Governor's plan. 

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