There is a fear factor in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s $10.9 billion plan to build more prisons and jail cells and reduce the sentences served by inmates.
The Republican governor’s proposal, which based on tradition will be gutted if not suffocated in the Democrat-dominated Legislature, is extremely ambitious and expensive.
But a potential court takeover of the state prison system made him do something. Why not do it big
The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is a mess. A federal receiver oversees prison health care, a special master and a federal judge do likewise with mental health care, and the courts have the final word on care of disabled prisoners and juvenile offenders and the employee disciplinary system.
In offering bold plans — like adding 78,000 beds, placing low-level offenders and juveniles at county jails and reforming the sentencing guidelines — Schwarzenegger is trying to regain control of his prisons.
The proposal is a stretch and has many hurdles to overcome before he can sign the reforms into law. He has the support of one influential Democrat, Sen. Gloria Romero of Los Angeles, who chairs the committee that oversees corrections.
The Senate’s Democratic leader, Don Perata of Alameda, hasn’t given his blessing to the package that he calls an improvement. If he does, it will come only after deep analysis and hearings in the Legislature.
Is Schwarzenegger’s third-prison reform proposal doomed Probably. We urge that it becomes a starter for more than casual conversation at the state Capitol. For far too long, prison and sentencing reform have been untouchable since the correctional officers union is omnipotent and every politician knows the phrase “sentencing reform” is code for “less time in prison.” Because of legislators with feeble hearts, our state’s prison system and county jails are being crushed by the overload of inmates. There are more than 173,000 inmates in 33 penitentiaries, including Deuel Vocational Institution east of Tracy. More than 16,000 of these inmates are housed in hallways, gyms, lounges and areas never intended for beds. Meanwhile, counties such as San Joaquin are letting nonviolent prisoners go because there isn’t enough space in their jails and honor farms.
The onus is on the Legislature — that’s you, Sen. Michael Machado, D-Linden, and Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton — to prevent a judge from ordering a cap on the number of inmates that the prison system can house. Don’t delay. The governor hasn’t.