Monday, January 25, 2010

LAO assesses Governor's Population Reduction Plan

The Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) has just released its report assessing the Governor's population reduction plan. The full text of the report can be found here. Here's the gist of the report.

As a reminder, this refers to the Governor's initiative, which later became SBX3 18, under which the CA inmate population would be reduced by approximately 18,500 inmates in 2009-2010, and an additional 25,000 in 2010-2011. The legislative analyst reminds us, however, that "the actual reduction in the inmate population from the above policy changes is now estimated to be significantly less than initially planned—about 1,600 inmates in 2009‐10 and 11,800 inmates in 2010‐11. This is primarily due to delays and changes in the implementation of the new policies." The report also mentions that the state's plan for the Plata/Coleman panel included two additional measures which were not included in the governor's plan: adjusting the dollar threshold for grand theft and placing some elderly and infirm inmates under GPS monitoring as an incarceration alternative.

The report recommends that the legislature consider four issues when assessing proposals: budget savings, actual reduction in population, public safety, and imposition on local jails and counties. Based on these criteria, LAO finds that the governor's plan achieves some savings, but is overstated, partly because of the delays in state employee layoffs.

As to the population reduction, LAO estimates it at 24,000, which is considerably less than the Plata/Coleman requirements, but which "would put the state closer to meeting that poten‐ tial target. Moreover, it could reduce the need for the prison construction projects authorized in Chapter 7, Statutes of 2007 (AB 900, Solorio) to help alleviate the state’s prison overcrowding problem."

LAO sees no compromise in public safety stemming from the proposals; short-term offenders would still be incarcerated, albeit in cheaper facilities, and prisons can accommodate the more dangerous offenders. It expresses, however, concern about depleting local resources by overcrowding jails. Also, in points out some possible unintended consequences: the proposal could be misconstrued to suggest that offenders with prior records must be convicted for a felony if committing one of the offenses in the proposal.

LAO recommends adopting the proposal, albeit with several modifications: Allowing counties to rely on alternatives to incarceration; revise the language; and consider adding reliance on GPS for elderly and infirm prisoners.

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