Incarceration Nation: California Gov. Brown defies feds on prison overcrowding
California Gov. Jerry Brown has vowed to take the federal government to court in order to break its hold on California's prison system. According to the Sacramento Bee, the governor has condemned the fed's “heavy hand” in the state's prisons as not only "intrusive" but "nit-picky" as well.
Further, without federal sanction, a defiant Brown has also lifted a “state of emergency” imposed in 2006 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. That situation had been brought on by severe overcrowding throughout the state's 33 prisons. Thousands of prisoners were granted "early release" at that time to relieve the pressure and staunch a possible state-wide prison rebellion.
"The prison emergency is over in California," Brown said.
Brown's rather bombastic appeal came after California filed papers in federal court Monday seeking to force the feds to withdraw its requirement that California make even further reductions in prison inmate populations. The documents also seek an end to federal oversight of mental health care in state prisons.
The court had earlier requested documentation as to exactly how California would meet its mandate to further reduce its prison population.
One of the obvious “options” to relieve overcrowding, of course, is continued early release of nonviolent, low-level, and/or first time offenders. Brown's office disagreed and argued that releasing even more prisoners than the state already has would seriously endanger the public and that the options submitted by the state were done "under protest."
It was just last year that the US Supreme Court ordered the Brown administration to reduce California's prison population by moving many newly convicted, low-level offenders from state prisons to county control – which might or might not include incarceration. Brown said the state's inmate population has dropped by more than 43,000 since 2006, to less than 150 percent of capacity. The court' s order calls for a reduction to 137.5 percent of capacity.
In fact, Brown said that California prisoners never had it so good, and actually live better than most of them could on the outside, and certainly better than prisoners in other states. He cited better health care and less crowding as examples of California's largesse. The California prison system is now "one of the finest prison systems in the United States," Brown said. "(T)he job is now complete. We've got it. Enough already."
As Brown spoke, one could almost, but not quite, see the smoke curling upwards from under his collar:
"We can run our own prisons, and by God let those judges give us our prisons back," Brown fumed. "We'll run them right."
Brown said he will fight in court "as long as it takes."
A reporter asked the governor why he expected to prevail in court this time as opposed to the recent failures. Brown responded that the court may look favorably on his appointment last month of a former Pennsylvania prison chief to lead California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Indeed, Jeffrey Beard was on the 2007 federal panel which reviewed California's prison and parole systems.
"I've taken their own expert, and I've made him head of corrections," Brown said. "What more do you want?"
Further federal control of California prisons would be a waste of time and money, Brown contends, money California does not have.
"We can't pour more and more dollars down the rat hole of incarceration," he said.