California will move nearly 10,000 inmates to county jails, community correctional facilities and out-of-state prisons by year's end in response to a federal court order, the state's corrections secretary said Monday.
Jeffrey Beard described the plan to The Sacramento Bee's editorial board three days after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Gov. Jerry Brown's request to delay a court order to reduce inmates by December. The reduction is necessary to improve substandard health care in the prisons, the courts have ruled.
How much the state will use each reduction option depends in part on how the three-judge panel overseeing the case responds to questions from the state, Beard said. The Brown administration needs to know if it can pay for increased prison costs without legislative approval, he said.
The court must approve the state's options for inmate reduction in general, he said.
California's plan would meet the requirements of the court's order but still represent "bad policy," said Donald Specter, director of the Prison Law Office, which represents inmates in the case.
"Those are all expensive options, and they don't do anything to get low-risk prisoners out of prison and into the community," he said.
Savings from housing fewer inmates could be used for rehabilitation and stopping offenders from repeating criminal activities, he said.
Gregory Ahern, the sheriff in Alameda County and president of the California State Sheriffs' Association, urged the governor "to do everything in his power to reduce the prison population by placing inmates in other secure facilities rather than allowing the early release of dangerous felons."
Releasing inmates through the use of "good-time" credits are among the options the state is considering for inmate reduction. But Beard did not prioritize it during his meeting with the editorial board.
Each option has limitations. Many county jails have limited space, a problem that has grown more acute since October 2011, when the state started sentencing lower-level offenders to jail instead of prison, partly in response to the federal lawsuit. Jails have been forced to release more inmates since that time.
"We just got through a major readjustment," Beard said. "A number of counties are struggling with this."
So far, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has identified Los Angeles and Alameda counties as having available space for state inmates. Los Angeles County has 1,000 beds and Alameda County has 600 available for use.
The state faces an obstacle with out-of-state incarceration: California can't move prisoners to another state without the inmates' consent, Beard said.
Finally, the state may reopen two community correctional facilities in Kern County to handle another 1,100 inmates, he said.
Call The Bee's Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @bradb_at_sacbee.