Transcript: Press briefing Q&A on Steinberg’s alternative proposal to reduce prison overcrowding – Aug. 30, 2013

Partial transcript of press Q&A with Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg on an alternative proposal to reduce prison overcrowding. The press briefing was held on Aug. 30, 2013: 

Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
Yesterday, as I was watching the press conference – the Governor, the Speaker, the two Republican leaders – there were moments where I thought, “I’m kind of alone here on this thing.” And then to stand here and see with great force that I’m anything but alone, that leaders throughout California – Senators – believe that we need to pursue a smarter path, a more cost-effective path, and something that will be more durable and sustainable – heartens me. And we are ready to begin a robust debate and end this session hopefully on a high and positive note…

Question: [Inaudible]

Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
Extensively. As I have talked to the Governor extensively, but rather than speak for them, I think within a few moments at the end of this press conference, you will hear directly from – I’m sure you’ll hear from both sides.

Question: [Inaudible]

Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
We oppose the Governor’s plan. Think it is – as the Governor himself said – I’m not throwing out the perforative – that it’s throwing money down a rat hole. And we oppose early release just like the Governor. We said it a number of times. But this particular plan – this particular way to go about avoiding early release and comply with a court order – we don’t agree with. We think there’s a better way. We think that the Governor and the plaintiffs in this lawsuit need to sit down and hammer our a settlement. And we provided, I think, a very intelligent framework, and I’m going to be anxious to hear from again both sides after this press conference what they have to say about this framework.

Again, right now, look it – we supported the Governor. I support the Governor more vociferously any other legislative leader when it came to appealing the three-panel panel to the Supreme Court. Because I agree and understand the Governor’s frustration, namely that we’ve done Realignment – 40,000 plus people out of state prisons into local communities. That was historic. That was not just the Governor. That was this legislature too, taking the tough and hard votes. I agree with his frustration, and that’s why I supported the appeal.

But absent the Supreme Court granting cert in October, which every expert says is not going to happen. I mean, it’s an infinitesimal chance that it will happen. He is faced now with a Dec. 31, 2013 date.

The question is how do we respond to that date? We agree no early release. Can’t do that. He’s not sitting down with the plaintiffs, trying to work this out, and he must before we would ever consider spending this kind of public money on a short-term and ineffective solution like expanding capacity.

Look it, the difference between the $715 million that he wants to spend in his plan and what we propose…Know what the difference between $730 million and $400 million is? Obviously, we know what the math is but we all know what it means when it comes to the work we try to do in so many other areas. How many college student is that who could be admitted to our three public college and university systems? How many school districts could we expand pre-school to with those kinds of resources?

I mean, the Governor’s funny because you know, geez, I’ve negotiated enough budgets with him now that when it comes to $50 million, $100 million for this or that when you’re negotiating, “Man, we can’t do that. We can’t do that. We don’t have the money. We don’t want to go back into deficit.” And we’ve agreed of course. We’ve come together.

$715 million? Like that? Off in the wind in the last couple weeks of session? There’s a better way and that’s what we’re suggesting.

Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) [off-camera]:
The Governor’s proposal would reduce our reserve $1.2 million out of $470 million and create a $290 million operating deficit – that’s the difference between the amount of money we’ll take in ’14-’15 to the amount of money we’ll spend in ’14-’15. A $290 million operating deficit.

Question: [inaudible]

Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
Correct. I believe very strongly that if the plaintiffs agree to this kind of framework for a settlement and the Governor is willing as well that the court would agree with that. I’m actually very confident in that. You might ask Mr. Specter when we’re done here.

Question: [inaudible]

Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
Not at this point. I mean, look it, we’re open to having any kind of conversation. We fundamentally believe that the underlying lawsuit needs to be settled. Because here’s the problem. You know, we are strong proponents in investing in those kinds of programs – that’s no secret. But we’re worried about money too. How do you layer $715 million put that on the table then layer on top of that much of what we want to do?

The Governor’s position is, as I’ve heard it yesterday, “Well, spend this money now and then we will get to the long-term solution. We’ll get to the sentencing changes. We’ll get to strategies to reduce recidivism – which are already proven, by the way.” And you know what my question is, because I won’t be here – I’ll be turned out when all that occurs, I’ll say, “Well, then where’s the money going to be for all that we need to do down the line if we’re spending $715 million and throwing it down the rat hole?”

Question: [inaudible]

Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
Look it, right now, the posture between the litigants is understandably tense and antagonistic. That’s what happens when you have a decade worth of litigation. A settlement changes the psychology. A settlement changes the situation.

In three years – look, I want to go back – the three-judge panel says, “You have to release, Governor, or do something with 9,600 offenders – state prison inmates – by Dec. 31, 2013.” That’s the order.

History – you want to know what the future will tell us? How about looking at real history? We’re talking about a $200 million investment, of course. That’s a $45 million investment in county-based reduction of recidivism strategies – substance abuse, mental health, vocational training, re-entry, mental health, drug courts, et cetera…This is undisputed, by the way. The counties said they sent 9,600 fewer offenders to state prison as a result and saved all this money. Why isn’t that a better investment than $715 million on something that doesn’t solve the problem?

Question: [inaudible]

Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
Here’s the incentive. The plaintiffs now, I think, realize that they are at risk of winning the battle and losing the war.

They’ve won the battle, because I don’t think the Supreme Court is going to take the case. They won the lawsuit. Terrific.

What does the capacity plan potentially mean to them? It means that they lose the long-term goal that precipitated the litigation in the first place – change the underlying criminal justice system.

Capacity – you’ve heard their response to the Governor’s plan. They think it’s throwing hundreds of millions of dollars – it doesn’t actually solve the problem. Because here’s the root of it: The root of it is if we build this capacity, there’s nothing that we’re doing that won’t lead to the overcrowding problem happening again because more and more people flood the prisons. So we’ll have spent this money and we’ll still have an overcrowding problem.

And the court, by the way, even with the Governor’s – if we did the Governor’s proposal – will continue to have full jurisdiction over the matter, and I’m sure they’re not too happy with the solution proposed by the administration.

But the plaintiffs have incentives because if all we end up doing is capacity, that doesn’t change any of the underlying factors which led to overcrowding in the first place.

Question: [inaudible]

Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
Well, I appreciate the Speaker speaking for the views of my colleagues. He’s entitled to his opinion. I think you’d see a very strong showing from equally committed public servants who believe there’s a better way.

…Now, does this lead to conversation that leads to a solution and compromise? I hope, and I’m open. You know me. You know my colleagues. It’s not my way or the highway.

We’re putting down a settlement proposal here. I’d like to hear what the parties say about it. Because if that case isn’t settled, this thing is going to linger, linger, and linger and it’s going to cost us billions. As the Governor said yesterday, billions and billions and more and more money.

Let’s do something smart here. You know, this is a stark moment in a way. It’s a fork in the road and we’ve chosen a path. Now, is there a middle ground? Always. But let this very important public debate, discussion begin.

Question: [inaudible]

Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
You know, anything is possible. I know we are not going to do what was proposed yesterday. It’s not smart. But would we communicate in the appropriate ways to the court in order to help facilitate a resolution, again, does not involve early release, which spends less money, and which actually begins changing this 70% recidivism rate in California? Sure, we’ll talk to the court, if it were appropriate. I don’t usually call judges on the phone but I’m – yeah, through the proper channels. Yes, yes, yes. Whatever it takes.

Now, by the way, I know everyone wants to posit this as a big fight with the Governor, and you know we get along great with the Governor. I do personally. And when you look at the long track record of things that we have worked together on to achieve over the last couple of years, I think he’s a great Governor. I really do. We just have a real difference of opinion here, and we think that he is taking a short-term approach in part because he’s rightfully frustrated with the role of these federal courts over this last decade. But it’s time to think forward. It’s time to move forward, and that’s what we intend to do.

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2 Comments on “Transcript: Press briefing Q&A on Steinberg’s alternative proposal to reduce prison overcrowding – Aug. 30, 2013

  1. Pingback: Spotlight: California Prison Capacity Expansion | What The Folly?!

  2. Pingback: Transcript: CA Sen. Mark Leno on the alternative proposal to reduce prison overcrowding - Aug. 30, 2013 | What The Folly?!

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