A federal court mandate requiring state prisons to bring the inmate population down to 110,000 by the end of the year, has been met with opposition by state and local government officials.
Governor Jerry Brown and four former state governors appealed the mandate, which initially ordered them to release as many as 9,600 inmates on early parole. Brown feared that releasing of prisoners early would add to California’s already high crime rates.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich wrote to Brown, asking him to consider outsourcing the prisoners by contracting with in-state and and out-of state private facilities, which he believes is an alternative solution to the state’s problem of prison overcrowding.
“Outsourcing will allow the state to comply with the federal court’s order by immediately alleviating overcrowding–without threatening public safety–and ensuring that convicted felons serve their full sentences,” the letter said. “Additionally, this population reduction could be achieved at a fraction of the current cost of housing prisoners in state facilities.”
Jeffrey Callison, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said that outsourcing is something the state is already doing.
“Most of our proposed plan (to the court) for doing that, was comprised of outsourcing, leasing from county jails and making use of our out-of-state beds longer,” he said.
Currently, California contracts for 9,000 additional beds in three other states.
State officials are developing a plan to address the court’s mandate, which includes outsourcing and leasing county beds, while still appealing the decision that they need to reduce their prison population at all.
“The court did not fully accept our plan,” Callison said, “and they said we need to account for 4,000 inmates.”
The court is suggesting that those prisoners be released on early parole.
Tony Bell, spokesman for Antonovich, said that focusing on outsourcing prisoners is the best option for the state and would keep costs down.
Housing the prisoners in private facilities costs less than half of what state prisons cost and is much less expensive that releasing prisoners early, Bell said. He cited the costs associated with re-arresting, trying, convicting and housing repeat offenders, not to mention the human cost.
Bell also said that the labor negotiations and pension benefits that state prison employees receive would not be a factor with private contractors.
The state is still assessing all the options, and the Corrections and Rehabilitation Department issued a statement in response to Antonovich’s letter.
“We appreciate the support of Supervisor Antonovich and many other community and law enforcement leaders in our appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court as we await the word on a stay and move forward with our appeal to the Supreme Court,” Callison said. “We are hopeful that the justices will give us a full review of this case and recognize the steps that have been taken to dramatically reduce California’s prison population and significantly improve medical and mental health care in our institutions.”