California Gov. Brown Seeks to Cut Billions in Prison Construction

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California may slash $4.1 billion in construction plans, bring back inmates housed in other states and close one of its costliest facilities.

The plan would reduce general fund spending on prisons to 7.5 percent from 11 percent, under a proposal unveiled by Governor Jerry Brown and the Corrections and Rehabilitation Department. The $4.1 billion is part of a $7.7 billion bond plan approved in 2007 to build more prisons as a way to ease crowding.

California’s inmate count was estimated at 161,000 last year and the number has dropped to 138,000 after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an order to cut the population based upon inadequate health care. Since then, lawmakers have shifted felons convicted of nonviolent, low-level crimes to county jails or to alternatives such as electronic monitoring.

California is finally getting its prison costs under control and taking the necessary steps to meet federal-court mandates, Brown said in a statement. He added that the plan cuts billions in future spending and meets the U.S. Supreme Court’s order.

Even with the decline, California prison officials said they expect to fall short of the court-ordered goal of reducing inmate numbers to 137.5 percent of capacity in 2013. Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate said the state plans to ask the court to increase the benchmark to 145 percent, a difference of approximately 6,000 prisoners.

Eliminating $4.1 billion of the bonds authorized would reduce planned operating costs and debt service by $2.2 billion, according to the report.

The revised plan also seeks to pull back 10,000 inmates that were moved to other states to help ease overcrowding, and to close a prison near Riverside.

California has offered lease-revenue bonds for prison construction, such as those sold earlier this year to help build an inmate prison-hospital near Stockton.