Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Governor Uses Executive Authority to Relieve Prison Overcrowding, Proclaims Emergency to Allow Inmate Transfer

Link to Governor's Press Release Governor Schwarzenegger issued an emergency proclamation for California's prison system today, citing severe overcrowding as a threat to health and safety in 29 of the State's 33 prisons. The emergency proclamation will allow Corrections officials to immediately contract with out-of-state correctional facilities to temporarily house California inmates.

"Our prisons are now beyond maximum capacity, and we must act immediately and aggressively to resolve this issue," said Governor Schwarzenegger. "I've ordered the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to begin contracting with facilities in other states to transfer inmates to available beds outside of California. These actions are necessary to protect the safety and well being of the officers, inmates and the public."

The Governor issued the emergency proclamation after his legislative package failed to win support during a Special Session of the Legislature called to address prison overcrowding. California Corrections officials estimate that CDCR will run out of bed space for inmates as early as June of 2007. Overcrowding is so critical that CDCR is forced to house more than 15,000 inmates in areas not designed for living space, including gymnasiums, dayrooms, and program rooms, as well as 1,500 inmates sleeping in triple-bunks.

The Governor introduced proposals for new prison and local jail facilities in January as part of his Strategic Growth Plan but the prison/jail proposals were not included in the bond package passed by the Legislature. The Governor also proposed moving non-violent women inmates out of the prison system and into community correctional facilities as part of his proposed Fiscal Year 2006-07 Budget, but that proposal also failed passage. The emergency declaration allows CDCR to streamline contracting to transfer inmates to out-of-state facilities for a period of 3-5 years. The Governor will re-introduce plans to build new prison and jail facilities, re-entry facilities and community correctional facilities when the Legislature reconvenes in December.

During the month of September, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation performed an informal survey of inmates and found that more than 19,000 expressed interest in transferring to a correctional facility outside of California. The number of inmates who can be transferred will depend on the type of beds available in out-of-state facilities selected through negotiations.

Once the volunteer pool of inmates is exhausted, the Governor's emergency proclamation orders CDCR to move inmates out-of-state involuntarily, if necessary, by meeting certain criteria and in compliance with all interstate agreements. The Governor ordered the CDCR to work in consultation with the court appointed Receiver in the Plata litigation and Special Master in the Coleman case before moving any inmates who require medical and mental health treatment.

CDCR officials are currently inspecting prison facilities in nine states - including Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Indiana, Michigan, Louisiana, Tennessee and Alabama - to evaluate whether they meet California's security needs and other criteria. These facilities had expressed interest in housing California inmates earlier this year by responding to CDCR's Request for Information. Some of the interested facilities are government-run by county sheriff departments and others are operated by private correctional companies.

CDCR expects to enter into contracts three to five years in length that could result in housing for 2,000 to 5,000 California inmates. In addition to providing much needed relief to overcrowding, it is anticipated that the contracts could reduce the cost of housing compared to costs in California. CDCR is seeking a total of up to 5,000 available beds outside California for immediate housing of inmates.

The emergency proclamation also will allow the Department to contract for facility space, inmate transportation, inmate screenings, and the services of qualified personnel and/or for supplies, materials, equipment and other services needed to immediately mitigate severe overcrowding.

The severe overcrowding crisis not only affects state prisons, but overflows local jails beyond their capacity. According to a report by the California State Sheriff's Association, adult jails average 80,000 inmates a day while 32 of the state's 58 counties operate their jails under self-imposed or court-ordered population limits. The report concludes that 233,388 county inmates statewide avoided incarceration or were released early from jails because they were displaced by prison inmates.

For more information on prison overcrowding, click here.