The California Legislature is sending Gov. Jerry Brown a bill that takes a two-pronged approach to the federal court order to reduce prison crowding, asking the court for an extension to meet the obligation while appropriating $315 million to send inmates to private and out-of-state prisons, in case the extension is rejected.
Senate Bill 105 reflects a compromise between the governor and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg. The two Democrats had split over how California should respond to the court order to reduce prison crowding by the end of this year. The order results from many years of litigation against the state alleging that California prisons are inhumanely overcrowded.
Brown proposed spending $315 million to expand prison capacity, while Steinberg proposed settling the lawsuit and spending $200 million on programs to reduce recidivism, such as mental health care and drug treatment. Brown's plan had the support of Democratic Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez as well as Republican leaders from both houses, Assemblywoman Connie Conway and Sen. Bob Huff.
Brown and legislative leaders announced the compromise deal on Monday. It passed the Assembly on Wednesday morning, then the Senate on Wednesday afternoon.
"If the court doesn't change the order in any way, the governor's original capacity plan goes into effect," Steinberg said. "I think that would be a very unfortunate occurrence but I think it's a risk we should be ready... to take."
Two Democrats did not go along with Steinberg in supporting the compromise: Sen. Noreen Evans of Santa Rosa and Sen. Loni Hancock of Berkeley. They objected to expanding the use of private prisons in California and to sending inmates involuntarily to other states.
Republicans supported the measure, even if with some grumbles.
"I don't think any of us like having the courts or the judges telling us what to do with our inmate population, but that's the reality that we live in," said Huff.
SB 105 passed its final vote in the Senate, 35-2, and now heads to the governor.
PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, left, steps up to the mike to answer a question after Gov. Jerry Brown announced on Sept. 9, 2013, that his office had reached an agreement with the state's four legislative leaders on a prison housing plan. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua