Yesterday's Supreme Court verdict affirming that California must reduce its exploding prison population by over 30,000 inmates raises a pressing question: where will they go?
The decision may conjure up images of newly freed convicts roaming the streets, something suggested by Justice Antonin Scalia's fiery dissent that ominously predicted that terrible things are sure to happen as a result of this order, and warned of men who have developed intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym.
But in reality California's chief concern in enforcing the ruling will be a financial one. California governor Jerry Brown has signed legislation that would shift low-level offenders from the state prison system to counties. The measure is currently in limbo, with the California legislature yet to approve funding.
The Supreme Court decision, which compels California to curtail the number of inmates in state prisons to 110,000 from more than 140,000, will likely speed the shift to more counties housing prisoners. A press release from California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation stressed this point, with Secretary Matthew Cate writing that his agency cannot enforce the Supreme Court decision unless the state allocates the necessary funding.
We particularly need the support and cooperation of the Legislature with the immediate funding and implementation of AB 109, the Public Safety Realignment plan signed by Governor Brown on April 4, Cate wrote. The Governor has repeatedly called for full and constitutionally protected funding of this bill to allow certain offenders to serve their incarceration and parole term under local supervision.
California's legislature has reached an impasse over the state's $10 billion deficit, stalling efforts to find funding for the legislation. Brown's proposed tax extensions, which he said would help fund the bill, have met with resistance from Republican lawmakers.