The major issue in the Corrections area is how the state will respond to court orders to reduce the prison population which has been ongoing since 1995. On February 9, 2009, a three-judge panel of the 9th United States District Court of Appeals ruled that “overcrowding in California prisons is indeed the root cause of health care inadequacy so severe it all amounts to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment. The evidence is compelling that there is no relief other than a prisoner release order that will remedy the unconstitutional prison conditions.” The ruling was tentative to allow all parties to come up with a plan to set free 37,000 to 58,000 California prisoners in the next two to three years. On August 4th, the same panel made a final ruling on the issue. They ordered that the state reduce the prison population to 40,000 within two years to correct what the panel called “woefully and constitutionally inadequate health care.” In total number, the order reduces the population from 180,000 inmates to 110,000. The court gave the state 45 days to come up with a plan for the reduction. The court said overcrowding is itself “criminogenic” increasing the likelihood of repeat crimes by former inmates returned to communities. Both the Governor and the Attorney General immediately appealed the ruling to the United States Supreme Court. During the budget negotiations between the Legislature and the Governor in July, language was adopted to provide cuts in the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) of $1.2 million and an agreement between the leadership with specific language where the cuts would come from so that a certain number of prisoners could be released. On August 20th, the Senate passed AB 14XXX (Arambula) which would have provided the necessary cuts for CDCR in the attempt to meet the court’s ruling. It passed by a vote of 23-15, but the Assembly would not concur because it would have established a sentencing commission which became controversial. On September 11th, the United States Supreme Court rejected the state’s request to delay a district court’s order requiring officials to produce a prison reduction plan by September 18th. In denying the request, the Supreme Court noted that the state would not have to implement any measurers to reduce overcrowding until its appeal to the United States Supreme Court has been decided. On the same day, a compromise Corrections reduction plan, SB 18XXX (Ducheny), was sent to the Governor which he signed into law on October 10th. The final corrections legislation provided $1 billion in cuts which has the affect of reducing the prison population by approximately 16,000 inmates through a variety of steps whereas AB 14XXX would have reduced the population by 27,000. Among the provisions was a change in parole supervision that is to focus on only the most violent offenders, giving parole agents fewer cases but concentrating their efforts on the most dangerous ones. Nonviolent parolees who are considered a lower risk will no longer be subject to having their parole revoked and being sent back to prison. It also expands the availability of good time credits for inmates participating in rehabilitation programs and changes some property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

On September 18th, the CDCR filed a comprehensive plan with the federal three-judge panel that reforms the prison system over several years. The plan combines previous reform efforts done administratively by CDCR and the SB 18XXX reforms with construction of prison beds, and significant out-of-state transfers. CDCR indicates these reforms and construction reforms will result in a reduction of the prison overcrowding from the current 190% to 155% over the next three years and 148% over six years. CDCR plans to have more legislative reforms which could drop the rate to 132% over the six-year period, exceeding the panel’s order. CDCR has implemented or plans to implement measures directly available to it through the Administration’s executive powers including (1) developing and deploying the Parole Violation Decision Making Instrument statewide, (2) maximizing the use of the currently authorized California Out-of-State Correctional Facility Program, (3) considering eligible undocumented inmates for commutation and deportation, (4) discharging from parole illegal aliens who have been deported by the federal government, and (5) utilizing electronic monitoring systems, such as global positioning systems (GPS), for eligible parole violators as an alternative to incarceration.

The Administration has announced that it is going to make a change in state law through the legislative process early next year to (1) increase the monetary threshold for grand theft, (2) provide alternative custody housing options, (3) seek authorization to continue the California Correctional Out-of-State Facility program and to expand the number of inmates that can be held in custody out-of-state, (4) seek legislative enactment of a law that would enable CDCR to accelerate construction of in-state capacity authorized by AB 900, and (5) seek legislative enactment of a law that would expedite leasing, building and/or operating new beds through establishment of private vendor contracts to house inmates and operate private facilities in the state.

Also enacted into law was SB 90 (Ducheny) which (1) appropriates $135.1 million General Fund (GF) to augment the 2007 Budget Act for CDCR health care-related deficiencies, and authorizes the transfer of up to $126.5 million GF between the main CDCR budget support item and the CDCR health care item to account for increased health delivery costs, (2) appropriates $486.8 million GF to augment the 2008 Budget Act for CDCR health care-related deficiencies, (3) requires Prison Health Care Services (the federal health care receiver) to provide the Legislature written reports, as specified, detailing actions taken and planned to reduce and better manage medical contract service costs in 2009-10, (4) appropriates $23.3 million GF to augment the 2008 Budget Act for net inmate population and caseload adjustments, and (5) requires any unencumbered funds to revert to the GF.

As part of the Budget agreement, SB 14XXX (Ducheny) was enacted which makes changes in AB 900 (Solorio), Chapter 7, Statutes of 2007, relating to the use of lease-revenue bonds for construction of additional prisons and jail beds by (1) providing that expenditures incurred by CDCR for pre-planning activities related to AB 900 projects can be reimbursed from the proceeds of lease-revenue bonds authorized by AB 900, and (2) making various changes, primarily to the scope of projects, necessary to ensure a clean bond opinion.

Vetoed Corrections legislation of note included AB 320 (Solorio) which would have given counties that provided existing county jail beds for use as state prison reentry beds the same funding preference for jail financing under AB 900 as counties that assist the state in siting a prison reentry facility; AB 382 (Ammiano) which would have required CDCR to consider specified risk factors, including the sexual orientation and gender identity of the inmate or ward, as specified, when classifying inmates in order to prevent sexual violence; AB 807 (Fuentes) which would have required CDCR to open two restitution centers in Los Angeles County, no later than June 30, 2011, as specified; and AB 845 (Bass) which would have required the Reentry Advisory Committee to apply for federal funds, develop a comprehensive strategic reentry plan reducing the recidivism rate, and submit a report to the Governor and the Legislature.