Transcript: Press briefing Q&A on Gov. Jerry Brown’s $315 million plan to expand prison capacity

Partial transcript of Q&A with Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) on his plan to expand prison capacity to comply with the federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding. The press conference was held on Aug. 27, 2013: 

Question: [Overlapping audio]

Gov. Jerry Brown: The plan is to find as many cells as needed both locally, some state facilities, and also out-of-state and to not bring back as many as we were intending to. That takes care of capacity.

Where we go after that, it’s a matter of inventorying local options, sentencing questions. There are a whole bunch of questions that will take a fair amount of collaboration and discussion…

Question: How about costs? What does it cost?

Gov. Jerry Brown: Oh, this will cost a few hundred million.

Question: How about a number?

Gov. Jerry Brown: …$350 [million]…It’s going to cost some money, no doubt about it.

When the courts said there’s an arbitrary number called 137.5% – don’t go above it and by the way we want it done by June; okay, we’ll give you another six months by Dec. 31st. The only way to comply with that consistent with public safety, consistent with maintaining the reforms we’ve already introduced is to bulk purchase additional capacity. That’s the plan.

Question: Is this going to erode the general fund next year?

Gov. Jerry Brown: Yeah, we can take care of it. Look, public safety is the priority and we’ll take care of it. The money is there.

Question: Governor, does this call for building new facilities?

Gov. Jerry Brown: Sen. [Darrell] Steinberg is in the Senate caucus.

Question: Does he support this plan?

Gov. Jerry Brown: No, he does not.

Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles): You asked about the cost and the ability to do this in the out year, and that’s why it’s so important that all of us together over the last couple of years have been able to get the fiscal discipline that we’ve had. That’s why it’s so important that this year we’ve had a $1 billion plus reserve.

The reason you build a reserve is to deal with the unanticipated situations that come up. Nobody would prioritize doing this, except for the courts. Now that the courts have tied our hands and given us two options: the release or what we’re doing.

We are not – any of us – willing to release an additional single prisoner.

So the only way to move forward is to deal with these alternative housing situations that the governor has addressed.

Our fiscal discipline up to this point allows us to be able to afford that but it is by no means our priority.

That’s why each of us thought that the court was in the wrong place to mandate this in the first. We have a system of laws. We will comply with the court. We will continue to fight to preserve this state’s rights. But we’re not going to release a single additional prisoner.

Question: Are you going to be ready to comply by December?

Gov. Jerry Brown: We’re talking – we were going to bring back 4,000; we’ll keep those in out-of-state beds. So then we have to find another 8,000. There will be a substantial number within the state of California and there will be more outside of the state for an approximate total of 12,000.

Again, the people who commit crimes and get sentenced become those who are our problem, and therefore when you get an arbitrary number, we have to find all these other alternatives.

…We already have 4,000 so we’re talking about 8,000 more.

Question: Governor, does the plan call for building any new facilities? Does this plan call for building any additional facilities?

Gov. Jerry Brown: Well, we are building facilities already with our blueprint. We’re building thousands of additional cells or beds within our existing prison structure. We’ve just completed a major facility in Stockton – very expensive – can treat 1,700 inmates, state-of-the-art mental hospital. We have other facilities that will be coming online – DeWitt – in a few months.

California is not spending hundreds of millions – we’re spending billions to satisfy the court requirements. We’re also appealing those requirements. We’re also fighting to make sure our management of health care, of mental health care, and all the other lawsuits that we’re facing. We’re taking them one at a time, and that’s the best we can do under the circumstances.

And the reason why the massive release is so dangerous – it’s not just what happens to those individuals and what they do or don’t do. It’s also that the whole structure of how we’re now organizing the criminal justice system could be completely upended by another initiative, political movement. The people have got to be assured that the state and local government is protecting their safety, and we do that in the plan we laid out and anything more precipitous, I think, has both short-term and long-term very negative consequences.

Question: How can this move in the Senate without the Pro-Tem’s support?

Gov. Jerry Brown: Well, you wait and see. [Audience laughter] Look, there’s only the alternative of release or capacity. Those are the two choices, and we believe that the Senate will – first of all, we believe and hope the Assembly will pass the bill out. And then through the debate and through the public discussion, we think the Senate should go along with it.

Question: Is this the Sept. 13th deadline or ?

Gov. Jerry Brown: It’s going to get it done. You heard the Speaker. He’ll get it done.

Question: Governor, do you expect to use some of the private prisons down in California City and if so would CCPOA members be staffing this?

Gov. Jerry Brown: Yeah, well, that’s one of our plans. That’s part of the – do you have any objection to that?

Question: How many beds?

Gov. Jerry Brown: 2,300 beds.

Question: We’re asking a lot of details because we haven’t seen anything.

Gov. Jerry Brown: Right, because we want you to know first. [Laughter] We want to get it out even before the ink is dry, we bring you into our thinking process.

Question: Given that this is facing the federal courts, the federal judges would have to approve what you’re laying out here.

Gov. Jerry Brown: We work for them…

Question: And I’m curious as to whether this is something you believe so passionately and that you’re willing to be in contempt if needed.

Gov. Jerry Brown: I’m not going to reveal all my moves at this press conference. [Laughter] I think this matter complies with the court order. It makes sense from the point of view of the total criminal justice system. It has widespread support. And everyone here in various degrees is committed to making changes – significant changes – over time but we want to know what the consequences are and we want to move at a pace that is sustainable. Everybody talks about durable. Well, what is not durable is massive disruption to the way things are being managed, and that’s the way we see it and I think Jeff [Beard] would agree with that.

Question: You use that term durable. The three-judge panel has used the term durable multiple times. If you build more capacity, it just becomes overcrowded again if you don’t do anything else. [Overlapping audio] So you both decided long-term solution is part of this. The Speaker even mentioned the specific in terms of the sentencing commission. I’m wondering if the others – Sen. Huff, Ms. Conway, the DAs, the sheriffs – whether you’re also committed to things that would provide that sort of – [overlapping audio]

Gov. Jerry Brown: …There’s a reason why we haven’t laid everything out in absolute, nauseating detail. By the way, since you raised the word durable. If you let 10,000 people out, what happens if they decide not to go to church every Sunday and instead commit serious crimes? Then they’d want to come back. If they want to come back, there’s no room at the inn because of 137.5%.

And so, this is not an issue of how many people should be in a prison only. It’s how many people will pledge not to commit crimes that would get them back in or that the community would like to see them back in and we would have the ability through the initiative process or the legislative process to make sure that becomes a reality.

So what I’m trying to do is to map the terrain of all the people standing here, the nature of the problem, the complexity of the state, local criminal justice system and move forward in a way that, I think, can make things better both between now and the end of the year and over the next several years.

Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles): …So there are three distinct set of challenges.

The first is the immediate response to the court mandate that we get below 137.5%. So what the governor’s outlined, what we are all here to support, is exactly that – finding alternative ways to house those folks consistent with the court’s directives but also motivated first and foremost by our interest in protecting the public in not releasing a single person into a community.

The second is doing it in a way that preserves our rights to make sure that the state is able to argue its case on the merits. Up to this point, the courts have not fully evaluated the conditions as we speak. They’ve not evaluated the impacts of the reductions that the governor’s already talked about, both from 2006 and over the last two years, and how material the conditions in the prisons have improved. So this allows us to go forward and talk about those things and maintains the governor’s rights to challenge the court order as we move forward.

The third, as I said, is it allows us to begin the process of the long-term discussion. And so to expect anybody to commit themselves to any set of what those elements are is way too early. That’s why we’re going to have a deliberative process. The immediate plan before us will come before the Assembly Budget Committee on Thursday. We’ll move through and have final resolution before Sept. 13th. And then as we’re doing that and as we move into interim, we will have a select committee, the governor will assemble series of experts, all of the stakeholders will be engaged in having a data-driven discussion so we make sure that we have long-term solutions that work for the community broadly and for all the stakeholders. That’s also how we get the votes in the Senate…by actually having a thorough conversation and a vetting of those issues.

Question: The Supreme Court specifically a couple of weeks ago outlined that they were denying what you’re talking about doing today. They said you did not have the authority to do more than what the plan was approved.

Gov. Jerry Brown: That’s always been our assumption. After consultation with legislative leaders, it becomes clear that the legislature will join in our effort to build…and find more capacity.

Question: So you’re expecting basically to get the legislative approval and present it as sort of a done deal to the court?

Gov. Jerry Brown: Well, wait a minute. The court is not in the business of saying “We don’t like so many people in prison.” Their business is in enforcing the Eighth Amendment through the Fourteenth Amendment, which says our prison conditions must be constitutional and may not be cruel or unusual punishment. And we believe we’ve arrived there already. They don’t think so.

But we’re operating on many fronts of which the cap on the prison – on the population – is one. And this gives us some breathing room so that we can demonstrate to the court that our health care and mental health care meet constitutional muster. And if they don’t agree with it this month, they’re going to agree with it sooner or later.

Because we will – I’m personally am getting – I will do whatever it takes. If we find out there’s not a doctor at some prison, I’m going to find out how to help the receiver to get that doctor. If there’s some other problem they need – we are going to systematically listing all the issues and I am confident that we are going to solve whatever problems the court has with our mental health care and both with our regular health care.

And once we do that, the whole issue of how many people can be in the prison changes dramatically. But we can’t do that overnight, and that’s why we go for the capacity option.

Question: Governor, you keep using the words “find more capacity.” Have you not identified all the potential beds at this point?

Gov. Jerry Brown: Yeah, we have.

Question: You have? Are you going to be providing a list of that of where you guys are going to be sending people?

Gov. Jerry Brown: I don’t know. Jeff? Do you want to respond?

Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles): The types of beds and the locations of the beds will be within the legislative solution that you’ll see. We’ll have language across the desk today in the Assembly. It’ll be fully in print tomorrow in preparations for hearings going forward. So there will be an enumeration.

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard: We’ve already addressed the issue with a lot of the vendors out of state. We know there’s a considerable amount of bed space out of state in various states out there. Arizona, Oklahoma, Colorado, Michigan are some of the states that do have some bed space. We’re also looking at Cal City as was mentioned, which gives us a couple of thousand beds. And there are some probably about 2,000 CCFs – community corrections facilities – that used to be open that are closed now that could be opened up fairly quickly – some perhaps this year and then the rest next year – to build some more capacity. Because what we would like to do is to do as much of this in state as we could and minimize the out of state. In the beginning, we’ll have to do more out of state that we’d like but then we will work on building in state capacity.

Question: Mr. Beard, are you reversing all the things that you have previously planned – the previous corrections secretary had said you want to shut down the community facilities, you want to get rid of out of state prisons. Now you’re reversing yourself.

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard: Well, I think we’re doing that…

Question: I mean, you could have done this before, right?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard: We could have done this before. That’s correct. But, you know, again as the governor has mentioned, we think we are providing constitutional care. We did try to appeal that to the courts. We haven’t been successful yet. We’re continuing that appeal. And so we’re doing what we have to do to keep the state safe, to not release people, to meet the number that the court has established.

Question: But this does not get you to that number, does it not? Governor, you said 8,000 and the current population numbers are above 9 to get you to 137.5%.

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard: We’ve already kept 4,000 inmates out of state as the governor said, and we feel we need about another 8,000 inmates before the end of the year…No, that’s in addition to the fire camp.

Question: Do you have a number of the 8,000 – this many ballpark are going to go out of state compared to private facilities?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard: It depends how fast we can ramp things up but initially we might be talking around 5,000 out of state and then the rest we try to do in state.


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