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Court rules California must reduce prison overcrowding

POSTED May 24, 2011 11:03 p.m.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that California must drastically decrease the prison population could create public safety concerns and overcrowding problems at county-level jail facilities.

The ruling that came down Monday states that California has to reduce the number of inmates housed in the state’s prison system by at least 33,000 within the next two years. In the 5-to-4 decision, the high court stated that the overcrowded conditions that have plagued the state’s prisons for decades mounted to cruel and unusual punishment and has caused “needless suffering and death.”

How the state will meet the reduction remains to be seen, but one proposal could transfer thousands of inmates to county jail facilities across the state. Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed a realignment of prisoners that would transfer nonviolent offenders to county jails. The bill, AB 109, was signed by Brown in April, but funding issues have yet to be resolved.

The state would have to pay counties to take custody of the prisoners and that requires an extension of the increased tax rates enacted in 2009, which has become a major point of contention in the Legislature.

“To meet this order, CDCR cannot act alone. It will take cooperation from all facets of state and local government,” said California Department of Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate. “We particularly need the support and cooperation of the Legislature with the immediate funding and implementation of AB 109, the Public Safety Realignment plan signed by Gov. Brown on April 4. The governor has repeatedly called for full and constitutionally protected funding of this bill to allow certain offenders to serve their incarceration and parole term under local supervision.”

In remarks made before the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning, Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said any transfer of custody “must come with adequate funding.”

“We need to make sure we are protecting our own community,” Christianson said.

Stanislaus County is already dealing with overcrowded jails. County officials said the jail facilities already need about 600 more beds. At Tuesday’s meeting the Board of Supervisors approved designing a new master plan for the county’s jail facilities. The plan would include the replacement of 172 beds lost during a fire at the Honor Farm. The beds would be moved to the Public Safety Center.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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