Governor Jerry Brown announced that the State of California has taken legal action to end a federal court order that caps the state’s prison population and another that requires “intrusive supervision” of prison mental health care.
Brown was Tuesday’s KVML “Newsmaker of the Day”.
“After decades of judicial intervention in our correctional system and the expenditure of billions of taxpayer dollars, the time has come to restore California’s rightful control of its prison system,” said Brown.
According to Brown, the state also complied with the court’s order to identify options to achieve additional reductions in the number of inmates held in state prison. The filing, made under protest, asserts that further reductions “threaten public safety and interfere with California’s independent right to determine its own criminal justice laws.”
“California’s prison health care system is now a model for the nation,” said CDCR Secretary Jeff Beard. “Independent expert reviews have found that California’s prison medical and mental health care systems meet constitutional standards. It would be both unnecessary and unsafe for the courts to order further inmate reductions.”
Despite Brown’s aggressiveness and insistence, the Associated Press reports that a federal overseer says it’s too soon for California to retake control of its prison mental health system. Special master Matthew Lopes argues too many California inmates are still committing suicide and going without treatment for their mental illness.
In 1991, California prison inmates filed a class action lawsuit, Coleman v. Brown, alleging that California’s prison mental health care system was unconstitutional. Subsequently, prior administrations entered into various consent decrees that set in motion vast judicial oversight of our prison system.
In the intervening years, California has rebuilt its prison mental health care system into one of the best in the nation, investing billions in additional treatment capacity and hiring hundreds of mental health care professionals. The state seeks to end this judicial oversight because the mental health care provided to prisoners now exceeds constitutional requirements.
In 2007, the Coleman case along with Plata v. Brown, a case concerning medical care, was assigned to a three-judge court. That court found that overcrowding was the primary cause of the failure to deliver constitutional medical and mental health care in California prisons, and in 2009 ordered the state to reduce crowding to 137.5 percent of “design capacity.” The U.S Supreme Court affirmed that order in 2011.
Since 2006, the inmate population in the state’s 33 prisons has been reduced by over 43,000 and crowding is down from more than 200 percent to just below 150 percent. More than half of the population decline has happened since October 1, 2011, as a result of Public Safety Realignment.
Lowering the prison population beyond this point-as ordered by the court-would require rewriting or disregarding the California Constitution and numerous state laws that limit the early release of prisoners. The result would be shorter sentences for inmates incarcerated for serious and violent offenses, increased burdens on counties, and expanded use of contract facilities at considerable cost to the taxpayers.
Governor Brown also announced that he has signed a proclamation ending the prison overcrowding emergency that has been in place since 2006. This will allow the state to phase out the use of private out-of-state prison beds for California inmates starting in July of 2013. At this time, there are approximately 8,900 California inmates in out-of-state prisons.
“The extreme circumstances of overcrowding in California’s prisons no longer exist,” said Secretary Beard. “With improved health care systems and additional state capacity, it is no longer necessary to send prisoners and California taxpayer dollars to other states.”
The “Newsmaker of the Day” is heard every weekday morning on AM 1450 KVML at 6:45, 7:45 and 8:45am