Local News

Thursday, May 02 2013 11:16 PM

Shorter sentences, more private prisons in works

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    By Casey Christie/ The Californian

    A correctional officer watches from a guard tower seen through the razor wire near the vehicle sally port that leads into the main prison area of the brand new Kern Valley State Prison in Delano in this 2005 photo.

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BY DON THOMPSON The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO -- California will seek to reduce inmates' sentences while increasing its use of private prisons to meet a court-ordered population cap by the end of the year.

Gov. Jerry Brown filed the plan late Thursday after federal judges last month threatened to cite him for contempt of court if he did not comply.

He also plans to appeal the judges' ruling.

California is housing thousands of inmates out of state and sentencing thousands more to county jails instead of prison, but the draw-down in population is still not enough for the federal courts.

Gov. Jerry Brown's administration faced a midnight Thursday deadline to detail how it will reduce the inmate population even further. California needs to shed another 9,300 state inmates to reach a court-ordered population cap by the end of the year.

The governor could be cited with contempt of court if judges believe he is trying to dodge their long-standing order, which has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Greatly reducing the state prison population is seen as the most effective way to improve medical and mental health care for inmates. Current treatment has been ruled unconstitutional. Yet the governor has said he cannot reduce the population in the state's 33 adult prisons any more without endangering public safety.

In addition to filing its plan with the court, the Brown administration also plans to seek a delay while appealing the ruling on overcrowding.

"I'm working every day to try to figure out how to take this case, which we're losing now, to get in front of the U.S. Supreme Court so we don't have to let out those 10,000 people." Brown told a crime victims rally last week, explaining he wants the high court to reconsider its previous decision.

The state must reduce the population in its 33 adult prisons to about 110,000 inmates by year's end.

The population already has been reduced by about 25,000 inmates under a two-year-old law that is sending felons convicted of what are deemed to be non-serious, non-violent and non-sexual offenses to county jails instead of state prisons.

Brown argues that most of the less serious offenders already have been filtered out of the state prison system.

He also says the state can no longer afford to provide "gold plate" prisons at the expense of schools and other social services.

The federal judges said they would hold the governor personally accountable if he keeps ignoring their orders.

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