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Buried about a third of the way through Gov. Jerry Brown's leaked budget proposal is a hint of the next twist in a protracted dispute over California's prison population.

California is staring down a federal court order to reduce its prison population and is at work negotiating a solution. The court recently granted California an extension, from mid-January to mid-April of 2014, as it seeks to slip under a population cap.

The imperative to depopulate prisons led Brown to ask the Legislature last year for $315 million to spend on housing inmates.

But California will spend only $228 million of that in the current fiscal year, the new budget blueprint predicts. The reason for not needing to spend it all?

"The Administration has assumed the court will grant a two-year extension to meet the cap," the budget document states.

If true, that would buy Brown a substantial amount of breathing room as he seeks to mollify federal judges. If not, the budget proposal states, California will need to spend the full $315 million.

Lawmakers reluctant to back the governor's focus on expanding capacity, most prominently Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, have emphasized instead spending more money fighting recidivism and promoting rehabilitation.

Brown's proposal would spend $11.8 million on substance abuse treatment and $11.3 million on mentally ill parolees while directing $40 million from the state's Recidivism Reduction Fund to re-entry programs.

That's not to say Brown is done pouring money into incarceration capacity. Despite spending $1.7 billion in jail construction, the administration argues there remains a significant need to house offenders. To that end, Brown proposes another $500 million for more facilities with a 10 percent county match requirement.

In his plan, which builds on Assembly Bill 109 of 2011, Brown also proposes legislation to require county jail felony sentences to be split between incarceration and mandatory supervision, unless the court finds it in the interests of justice not to do so.

PHOTO: Guard tower looks over the yard at San Quentin State Prison on Wednesday September 18, 2013 in San Rafael, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.



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