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By Miriam Raftery

September 24, 2013 (Sacramento) – Under a court order to reduce California’s prison population by 9,600 prisoner’s at year’s end to relieve overcrowding or face contempt of court charges, Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law Senate Bill 105. 

The bill provides that Brown will ask a panel of judges to delay the order to allow the state time to expand rehabilitation programs to reduce the prison population, including mental health and substance abuse treatment.  But if that request is rejected, SB 105 will shift thousands of inmates to county jails and to private, out-of-state prisons.

California has already reduced its inmate population by 46,000, through a combination of releasing prisoners and moving some to county jails. The latter has forced release of some lower level offenders at local levels, a factor that has been blamed for an increase in crime in some areas.

Sending prisoners out of state could ease overcrowding in California, but also pose hardships for families seeking to visit incarcerated loved ones far away. 

Private prisons have drawn their own share of controversy, including accusations of inhumane conditions by the ACLU and others.

One private prison in Mississippi was so infested with rats that prisoners traded them as pets, the ACLU has stated.  Some private prisons have been accused of denying prisoners mental healthcare and medical care.   A hunger strike in California occurred due to private prisons keeping some prisoners in solitary confinement for years on end. 

A study by the Rand Corporation has found that a crucial component to reducing recidivism, or repeat offenses, would be to provide education and/or job training to prisoners that could enable them to land jobs when released. 

Educating prisoners has met with opposition from some opposed to spending more money on inmates.  The cost of incarceration is $55,000 per bed per year in California, however, so alternatives that can reduce the inmate population without raising crime rates (as release alone may do) are options more and more legislators on both sides of the aisle are now exploring.