SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown was planning to ask federal judges on Monday to delay their requirement that the state release thousands of inmates by year’s end to ease prison overcrowding. If the judges reject his plan, the administration would spend $315 million this fiscal year to house the inmates in private prisons and county jails instead of turning them loose.
The state has a court-ordered Monday deadline to report on its progress for reducing the prison population by about 9,600 inmates by the end of the year. Its response is based on a law enacted last week in the closing hours of this year’s legislative session.
The state’s plan is intended to offer the judges a choice in the long-running dispute over inmate care that now is before the U.S. Supreme Court for the second time.
Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to lease available cells, the state is offering to spend part of the money on substance abuse and mental health treatment and other rehabilitation programs if the court extends its year-end deadline. The goal is to keep parolees from re-offending and being sent back to prison.
A compromise the governor worked out with legislative leaders of both parties last week also calls for increasing the amount of money the state gives counties as an incentive for working with felony probationers locally.
There is no guarantee the courts will agree, particularly with inmates’ attorneys objecting. The attorneys representing inmates’ welfare have said the plan is short on details and there is no way of knowing if the population would actually be reduced through the rehabilitation programs.
But Brown last week said he saw “smoke signals” that the judges might agree to let the state concentrate its money on programs that could provide longer-lasting benefits.