By Sam Stanton
Gov. Jerry Brown's realignment plan to shift thousands of inmates from state prisons to county jails will have a significant impact on prison overcrowding, a new report finds, but will still fall short of the court-imposed deadline requiring the state to reduce its inmate population by 34,000 over the next two years.
As a result, the state should heed the U.S. Supreme Court's suggestion that it ask for an extension of the deadlines to reduce prison populations, a report from the state's nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office concludes.
The report comes as the state is working to begin the realignment plan on Oct. 1, with corrections officials still working to figure out how many inmates will be shifted from prisons to individual counties, and local authorities still in the dark over exactly how the plan will be implemented.
After years of litigation, the state is now under orders from the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce prison overcrowding in an effort to improve medical and mental health care for inmates.
The state's 33 adult prisons currently hold about 144,000 inmates, roughly 180 percent of the capacity for which they were designed.
A special federal three-judge panel has ordered the state to cut that population to 137.5 percent of capacity by June 27, 2013. That means state officials must find a way to cut inmate populations by about 34,000.
The governor's plan would achieve that by shifting responsibility for low-level offenders and parole violators from the state to individual counties beginning Oct. 1.
State prison officials estimated in a court filing last month that the realignment plan will reduce inmate populations by 32,000 over the next two years.
"However, our analysis indicates that it will take much longer than two years for the full effects of the realignment plan to be realized on the prison population," the report states.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the inmate reduction order in May, but justices virtually invited California to seek a modification from the three-judge panel and ask for the two-year deadline to be extended to five years.
State corrections officials have not ruled that out, and the LAO report says such a move could help the state comply with the requirement to reduce prison overcrowding.