Groups that advocate for inmates' rights and against the expansion of the prison system railed Friday against Gov. Jerry Brown's latest plan to reduce the state's prison population, saying the governor is resorting to "fear mongering" instead of pursuing changes that will lead to fewer people being incarcerated in the state.
The Brown administration filed the court-ordered plan under protest Thursday night, maintaining that the state has done enough to cut its prison population and provide sufficient access to health care. California Corrections Secretary Jeff Beard called the plan -- which includes proposals to release hundreds of inmates who have received good behavior credits or are elderly or ill -- "unnecessary and unsafe." The state plans to appeal a three-judge panel's ruling that further reductions are needed to comply with a 2009 court order.
Representatives from the prisoners' rights groups blasted both Brown administration's premise and the policies it included in the report during a late morning press call.
Vanessa Nelson, a co-director of Life Support Alliance, which seeks to reduce the number of people serving life sentences, said Brown's continued insistence that the state prison system is fine, despite the court rulings, "shows that he is either obstinate or delusional."
"He's trying to scare Californians, and he's trying to scare the Legislature into believing that (with) any kind of reform these people will run amok and commit more crimes and that's not true," added Misty Rojo, a program coordinator with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners who served 10 years in a women's facility in Central California.
The advocates were also critical of the plan itself.
Anti-prison activist Roger White said he is "really disappointed" in Brown's focus on meeting the court orders through expansion of the prison system, such as adding or renting additional beds and allowing more inmates to participate in a firefighting program. White works for Critical Resistance, a national group that opposes expansion of the prison system.
"We're convinced that the only real way that you reduce the prison population in a sustainable way is to reduce the capacity of the state to imprison people," he said. "Jerry Brown's plan goes in the opposite direction."
White was especially critical of proposals to transfer some prisoners to facilities run by Alameda and Los Angeles counties, a move he said would "move the prison crisis on the state level to the counties." Los Angeles, he said, recently applied for state funds to expand its own facilities to meet its current needs.
"Now the state is going to turn around and lease beds from a county that is going after state dollars to relieve overcrowding in its system? It makes absolutely no sense," White said.
Brown's administration says the Legislature needs to act to implement his plan if the appeal is not successful. The advocates said they will continue to press lawmakers on enacting their own alternative solutions for reducing the inmate population.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this post misspelled White as Wright in one instance. The Bee regrets the error.
PHOTO CREDIT: California Gov. Jerry Brown talks about federal oversight of the state's prison system at a news conference at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Jan. 8, 2013. Randall Benton / Sacramento Bee.