In order to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to slash its prison population, California officials announced Tuesday that they have a new plan. But according to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, how they will pay for the shift is still up in the air, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
The Brown administration said they are relying on a plan that would move most low-level offenders to county jails and build new prisons to accommodate serious criminals, though it hinted it might have difficulty putting the plan in motion fast enough to meet the court-ordered deadlines of cutting the populations within two years. The administration, however, did not request a delay.
What we've said is we're going to move forward with this plan, and we'll ask for more time if we need it, Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate said at a news conference. But Cate said the Legislature must make sure the governor's plan is funded. We're in trouble. I don't see any other way to get there, he said.
Last month, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling requiring California to reduce the number of inmates in its jails. California was given until 2013 to cut its prison population by 33,630. California's adult prisons, designed to have a capacity of about 80,000, currently contain more than 142,000 inmates, an increase spurred in part by harsh measures like the so-called three strikes law.
The 5-4 decision cited the Eight Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, mentioned a lack of adequate medical care, soaring suicide rates and cells that resemble telephone-booth-sized cages without toilets.
After years of litigation, it became apparent that a remedy for the constitutional violations would not be effective absent a reduction in the prison system population, Kennedy wrote.
The vote followed the court's ideological fault lines, with four judges appointed by Democratic presidents joining Kennedy. Justice Antonin Scalia issued a scathing dissent that cast the decision as a menace to public safety, calling it perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation's history.