Brown’s Budget makes good on Reform Mandate (mostly)

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 3.06.13 PMJanuary 6, 2013

Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget for the coming fiscal year includes several proposals welcomed by reformers. They are also intended to help the state comply with a federal court order requiring the reduction of prison overcrowding by mid-April to improve medical and mental health care for inmates.

According to the Sacramento Bee, the budget package:

—allows for the parole of medically incapacitated inmates; considering parole for inmates age 60 or older who have served at least 25 years in prison; and increasing good-time credits for non-violent second-strike offenders

— Frees up $81 million for rehabilitation programs that otherwise would be spent to house inmates, if the federal judges grant the two-year extension to meet a court-ordered prison population cap.

— Spends $8.3 million to redesign the 600-bed Northern California Reentry Facility in Stockton, although it will take more than two years to ready the facility to house male inmates.

— Adds $14 million to fight the smuggling of drugs and other contraband, including cellphones.

— Allocates nearly $65 million for the Department of State Hospitals to help the agency deal with a more violent mentally ill population that increasingly comes from the criminal justice system. A U.S. District judge last year ordered increased federal oversight after finding problems with the department’s treatment of mentally ill inmates.

— Gives counties $500 million for new jail space, on top of $500 million that is now being distributed through a competitive grant program. The proposal requires that counties demonstrate they are taking steps to lower their jail populations by freeing more suspects who are awaiting trial.

— Inmates sentenced to more than 10 years in county jails under the state’s two-year-old criminal justice realignment law would again serve their time in state prisons. That would increase theprison population by a projected 300 inmates, felons that sheriffs have said they are not equipped to handle. The shift would come only if the state is able to comply with federal judges’ prison crowding reduction order.

— Reduces the cost to counties to send local inmates to state-run firefighting camps. Counties have said the current $46 daily rate is too costly. Counties would pay $10 a day for each inmate at a firefighting camp, and $81 each day the inmates are being trained.

— Requires that all felony sentences served in county jails be split between jail time and mandatory supervision, unless a judge concludes that a split sentence is not in the interest of justice.

That last item is extraordinarily important. Though Courts have had the power to split sentences under “Realignment” they overwhelmingly have declined to do so. If passed, this provision will create a right to a split sentence (unless the court makes a special finding), which will require the courts to grant “mandatory supervision” to less serious prisoners housed in county jails, releasing offenders into the community under the supervision of Probation and optimally involving them in rehabilitation programs that will help reintegrate them into the community.

Not all of these provisions can be considered reforms (the provision allowing counties to shift prisoners from county jail to prison when a sentence is more than ten years is of particular concern), but they are an important step in the right direction, including many provisions that reformers have sought since Realignment was announced in 2011.

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