Saying federal courts could seize control of California’s overcrowded prisons, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special legislative session on the corrections system and said the state must build more lockups soon, the Los Angeles Times reports. Schwarzenegger spoke less than a week after a federal court monitor sharply rebuked him for retreating from prison reforms he had promised after taking office in 2003. Some critics called the governor’s move an election-year political gimmick.
With the inmate population at an all-time high and 16,000 inmates sleeping in gyms, hallways and even outside, the governor said California “desperately” needs more cells. He embraced a bill to use lease revenue bonds, which do not require voter approval, to build two prisons for at least $500 million apiece. Schwarzenegger revived a proposal to shift 4,500 low-risk female inmates to private correctional centers closer to their homes. He also called for moving thousands of male convicts near the end of their sentences to other detention facilities, to better prepare them for success upon release – and free up prison beds. The special session begins today and is concurrent with the regular session. The governor urged passage of his proposals by August. “My hunch is this has a little something to do with the prison guards union, which has been pretty grumpy with him for awhile,” said Shaun Bowler, a political scientist at University of California Riverside. “So this is a brilliant move. You can appear tough on crime by building new prisons and make the union happy at the same time.”