Wednesday, May 16, 2007

California Responds to Federal Courts with Plan to Reduce Prison Overcrowding

Today the state of California detailed its aggressive, comprehensive plan to reduce overcrowding in California's prisons in a court filing with a federal judge contemplating whether an inmate population cap is warranted. State attorneys filed the brief in response to U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson's February 15, 2007 order in the case of Plata v. Schwarzenegger. The state argued that the new prison reforms in AB 900, coupled with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's (CDCR) administrative parole reforms, should pre-empt the need for further court intervention.

"By working together, California lawmakers and my administration have launched an aggressive plan to reduce overcrowding in our state's prisons," said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. "We have established strike teams to expedite the implementation of this plan and will ensure that all inmates will receive a constitutional level of care. Public safety is always my top priority, and I am confident that the plan we have put in place will address overcrowding and ensure that no dangerous criminals are prematurely released into our communities."

The report to the court outlines the immediate and dramatic steps that the state is taking to reduce prison overcrowding, including:

  • Temporarily transferring inmates out of state;
  • Implementing administrative parole changes that reward successful rehabilitation;
  • Implementing rehabilitation programs to reduce recidivism;
  • Building new prison space that will reduce prison overcrowding, increase rehabilitation programs, and provide more beds for inmate medical care; and, Appointing expert management strike teams to ensure expedited implementation of AB 900.
Many of the components of the state's plan to reduce overcrowding in California's prisons were included in the historic, bipartisan plan to reduce prison overcrowding passed by the legislature, AB 900. This plan is being supplemented with CDCR's parole reforms.

"The state is working on many fronts to reduce overcrowding in California's prisons," said Secretary Jim Tilton, CDCR. "We will be utilizing all of the tools at our disposal to implement the new reforms, and ensure that public safety is protected."

DETAILED COMPONENTS OF THE STATE'S PLAN:

Out of State Transfers Temporarily Relieve Overcrowding: Beginning in June 2007, CDCR will resume transferring inmates to out-of-state private prison facilities. It is expected that CDCR will process up to 400 inmates per month for transfer out of state, and that approximately 8,000 inmates will be transferred by March 2009. Transfers will continue thereafter as needed, as AB 900 authorizes transfers until July 1, 2011.

Inmates selected for transfer to out-of-state facilities will undergo a comprehensive medical screening. Only those inmates who meet the Receiver's medical criteria will be selected for transfer. Transferring inmates out of state will reduce overcrowding, which in turn will decrease the risk of violence and the spread of infectious diseases. Additionally, these transfers will result in reduced staffing requirements; for example, escort officers and medical staff will be better able to serve a smaller population. The transfers will also free space at existing facilities for enhanced medical services. Medical staff will be able to focus on non-emergent services, because reducing prison overcrowding, and in particular the use of non-traditional beds, will ease prison living environments and decrease violence and the spread of infectious diseases.

Administrative Parole Changes Reward Successful Rehabilitation: Parole reform strategies will play a large role in the reduction of prison overcrowding and the provision of constitutional medical care. In addition to the implementation of AB 900, CDCR has implemented immediate parole changes to reward successful rehabilitation. CDCR is actively pursuing strategies to release parolees from their statutory parole periods as soon as is appropriate. Under current California law, parolees initially released from prison after serving a period of incarceration for a non-violent offense, and who have complied with the terms of their parole continuously for one year since their release, shall be discharged on the 30th day after their first year of parole (or at the 13th month of their parole term), unless the recommendation to retain them on parole has been made to, and approved by, the Board of Parole Hearings. Similarly, parolees initially released from prison after serving a period of incarceration for a violent offense and who have complied with the terms of their parole continuously for two years since their release, shall be discharged the 30th day after their second year of parole (or at the 25th month of their parole term), unless the recommendation to retain has been made to, and approved by, the Board of Parole Hearings.

Prior practice within the Division of Adult Parole Operation (DAPO) resulted in fewer parolees being discharged from parole at the 13th and 25th months than is allowed by California Penal Code Section 300l. DAPO is issuing a memorandum clarifying when parolees must be released from parole under state law. Historically, DAPO discharged approximately 13,800 parolees annually at the 13th month, and 5,000 at the 25th month. Based on the revised practice, it is anticipated that there will be an additional discharge of between 2,000 and 4,000 parolees from parole in the next 12 months. By discharging more parolees from supervision, CDCR expects to experience a reduction in the number of parolees returned to custody for technical parole violations.

Implementing Rehabilitation Programs to Reduce Recidivism: AB 900 ties rehabilitation programs to all of the new beds that will be created. Rehabilitation services-like substance abuse treatment, mental health services and vocational education-will accompany all new bed construction. Secure Re-Entry Facilities, small correctional centers built in local communities, are the legislation's rehabilitation centerpiece. The legislation funds 16,000 new beds in these centers to provide focused rehabilitation in the critical few months just before offenders are paroled. Programs will include: job training and placement; GED coursework; anger management classes; family counseling; and housing placement. These new rehabilitation programs and re-entry facilities will improving inmate re-entry to California communities, thereby reducing recidivism, easing prison overcrowding, and ensuring public safety.

Building new prison space that will reduce prison overcrowding, increase rehabilitation programs, and provide more beds for inmate medical care: AB 900 was designed to reduce prison overcrowding, increase rehabilitation programs, and provide more beds for inmate medical care. AB 900 creates a comprehensive plan for the construction of 40,000 prison beds, including much-needed medical beds. These beds include 16,000 infill beds, to eliminate all non-traditional beds, 16,000 beds in secure re-entry facilities to improve inmate re-entry into California communities, and 8,000 medical and mental health beds to ensure proper care.

1. Infill Beds Will Eliminate Non-Traditional Beds: AB 900 will reduce prison overcrowding by authorizing the construction of 16,000 in-fill beds. In-fill beds will provide additional capacity at existing prisons in a way that ensures proper facilities, support, and services. Creating in-fill beds will not require the construction of new prisons; rather, there will be construction of new facilities at existing prisons. In-fill beds, like the out-of-state transfer of inmates, will eliminate non-traditional beds and provide better care and services for inmates.

The newly-established Facilities Strike Team will expedite construction. The means to expedite construction will include waiving state laws, as needed, pursuant to the Governor's Emergency Proclamation. As required by AB 900, these beds will be constructed so as to fully integrate rehabilitative programs into the new facilities. The Facilities Strike Team will work to finish construction as quickly as possible, but at a minimum it is expected that construction of the 12,000 Phase I in-fill beds will be completed in 2009. As new in-fill beds are constructed, AB 900 mandates the reduction in a proportionate number of non-traditional beds, until non-traditional bed use is entirely eliminated.

2. New Secure Re-Entry Beds Ease Inmates Transitions, Reduce Crime and Recidivism: AB 900 provides for the creation of 16,000 re-entry beds, which are beds in small, secured facilities (500 inmates maximum per facility), that are operated by CDCR but are geographically closer to communities and are focused on providing rehabilitation services and preparing inmates for re-entry into society. The Facilities Strike Team will expedite construction to provide 6,000 Phase I re-entry beds, followed by the remaining 10,000 re-entry beds in Phase II.

3. Medical and Mental Health Beds Ensure Proper Care: The addition of medical and mental health beds is also provided for by AB 900. A total of 8,000 medical/mental health beds will be created. The Facilities Strike Team will expedite construction and will work to bring the beds on line as soon as possible. Based on the scope of the Plata Receivership, construction of the AB 900 medical beds will require the cooperation of the Receiver.

Appointing expert management strike teams to ensure expedited implementation of AB 900 and administrative changes to address overcrowding: In addition to the management assessment and plan required by AB 900, Governor Schwarzenegger has already established two expert strike teams to ensure that California's prisons are managed effectively and that bed construction and rehabilitation programs are implemented expeditiously. The strike teams have been established with twenty experts from universities, community organizations, and state government. The Facilities Construction Strike Team will restore CDCR's major project management capability and will work to expedite in-fill, re-entry, medical/dental/mental-health, and jail beds authorized by AB 900.

The Facilities Construction Strike Team will also:

  • 1. Consider all available options for housing inmates and improving inmate housing;
  • 2. Evaluate alternative construction methods;
  • 3. Work to overcome impediments to expedited construction; and,
  • 4. Work with local communities impacted by prison facilities.
At the same time, the Rehabilitation Strike Team will provide expertise on rehabilitation and will expedite implementation of the rehabilitation programs, which will increase successful community re-entry and reduce recidivism.

The Rehabilitation Strike Team will also:

  • 1. Assess existing CDCR rehabilitation programs and space;
  • 2. Design an integrated rehabilitation services delivery plan for inmates and parolees including substance abuse treatment, education, job training, counseling, and life skills; and develop a plan for inmate job training;
  • 3. Quickly implement inmate intake and pre-release needs assessment tools;
  • 4. Develop incentives for program participation;
  • 5. Develop a plan to immediately reduce the number of lockdown days so that inmates can participate in rehabilitative programming; and,
  • 6. Develop the $50 million in rehabilitation and treatment funds that are authorized by AB 900.
Court Documents