Trying to avert a possible court takeover of the state prison system, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday proposed a multibillion-dollar expansion of state and local correctional facilities and opened the door to sentence reductions for some crimes, says the Los Angeles Times. The $10.9-billion plan, which was described earlier this week by the Sacramento Bee, would add 78,000 beds to state prisons and county jails. The expansions, which would be funded mostly through borrowing at a time when California is already heavily in debt, could bring relief to Los Angeles County’s overcrowded jails. The county would be required to use about half its new beds to take in low-level offenders and juveniles currently in state facilities. “We are at the point where, if we don’t clean up the mess, the federal court is going to do the job for us,” Schwarzenegger said.
Schwarzenegger’s plan, with its more ambitious building and a politically risky sentencing review, is also subject to legislative approval. The plan calls for establishing a bipartisan panel of experts to take on the thorny issue of changing sentencing guidelines. The 17-member commission would include legislators, the state attorney general, the corrections chief, a judge, and law enforcement representatives. The governor noted that 18 other states have such commissions. He said he finds it unacceptable that California has the highest recidivism rate in the nation. “Imagine: Out of 10 people that get out [of prison], seven come back in,” he said. “We can do better.”