Steinberg Announces Proposal to Reach Prison Accord & Resolve Prison Overcrowding Crisis

August 28, 2013

(Sacramento, CA) – California Senate leader Darrell Steinberg and the Senate Democratic Caucus have unveiled a proposal to end the federal litigation over California’s prison overcrowding crisis. Senator Steinberg outlined his solution in a letter to both the Governor and the plaintiffs in the cases that led to the federal Three Judge Panel’s order to further reduce California’s prison population by the end of this year.

"The federal courts have put us in the untenable position of either releasing thousands of inmates from our prisons early, or putting our prison capacity on steroids by renting new prison beds at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars for years to come,” Steinberg explained.  “Neither option makes any sense. We can do far better, and would be wrong to give up now."

The Senate plan would achieve a durable solution to California’s chronic prison overcrowding by reducing crime through performance-based grant programs. The grants would incentivize counties to expand proven rehabilitation, drug and mental health treatment programs for criminal offenders. Additionally, the state would create an Advisory Commission on Public Safety to analyze and recommend changes in California’s sentencing laws.

In return, Senator Steinberg asks that the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit agree to extend the current December 31, 2013 deadline for meeting the court-imposed population cap by three years. The proposal asks all parties to allow an independent state panel to evaluate and determine proper population levels for California’s prisons based on standards and practices employed by correctional administrators across the country. 

“Governor Brown has a well-earned reputation as a good steward of the public purse; throwing this expensive Band-Aid on a hemorrhage threatens to undermine our hard work,” said Steinberg.

The Performance Incentive Public Safety Grant Program proposed by Senator Steinberg is modeled after a 2009 effort which, in just two years, reduced new prison admissions by more than 9,500, with $536 million in state savings over three years.

“We cannot build or rent our way out of overcrowded prisons,” Steinberg said. “Circumstances have brought us to this moment, where our policy and fiscal decisions on how we manage criminal offenders will impact generations to come. Realignment has opened the door of positive change, but if we misstep now, that door will slam closed. Relying solely on more prison beds is repeating the same failed investments of the past. We need solutions rooted in effective strategies to reduce crime, and we need the time to implement these real reforms. That's where I hope the Governor and the plaintiffs will find common ground."

Please find attached a copy of Senator Steinberg’s letter to the Governor and the plaintiffs, an outline of the proposal, and data from a recent poll showing strong public support for correctional reforms.

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