Matthew Cate isn’t donning contempt-able jail garb yet, but the state corrections secretary confirmed this afternoon that the governor’s prison plan won’t exactly comply with a three-judge panel’s order to reduce the inmate population by 40,000 over two years.
Instead, Cate told reporters, the state will reach that goal “eventually” — perhaps in five or six years.
“We think that we’ve done in our plan that we’re submitting today everything that we can legally do under state law that is both consistent with good corrections practice for a prison system and is consistent with public safety on the street,” Cate said. “I think we’ve done everything that’s appropriate.”
And if the three-judge panel doesn’t see it that way? Does Cate, a former prosecutor, fear being held in contempt by a court that has expressed frustration at the state’s slow approach to changing prison conditions?
“The courts will decide whether what we’ve done is in substantial compliance … In my view this honestly demonstrates a good-faith effort to do everything we can,” he said.
The governor’s plan, expected to be filed with the court tonight, generally relies on recently passed legislation to start reducing the prison population. The state will ease policies that revoke parole for technical violations. An additional 2,500 inmates will be shipped to out-of-state facilities to join 8,000 California prisoners already there. Corrections officials will go on a major construction bender, adding as many as 20,000 beds in future years.
Cate said the governor will also ask the Legislature to reconsider alternate custody arrangements for lower-risk inmates and the creation of a sentencing commission – two ideas estimated to get the state much closer to the 40,000-inmate figure, but two ideas that have gone nowhere in the state Assembly to date.
All of these actions will take time, more time than the court envisioned. But don’t look for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in an orange jumpsuit any time soon, said Rory Little, a professor of criminal and constitutional law at Hastings.
“I do not think it’s likely the panel would immediately hold the governor in contempt,” Little said before Cate summarized the plan.
The inmate-plaintiffs in the two cases before the three-judge panel will have to respond to the governor’s plan before the court makes any decision.
— Cheryl Miller
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