Jeffrey Beard’s expert testimony was cited 39 times in the federal court order that capped California’s prison population in 2009. He said the state’s prisons were severely overcrowded, unsafe, and unable to deliver adequate care to inmates, says the Los Angeles Times. Then, he was Pennsylvania’s prisons chief. Now, he’s Gov. Jerry Brown’s new corrections secretary, and his first order of business is to persuade the same judges to lift the cap, as well as to end the court’s longtime hold on prison mental health care.
“I agree with what I said back then,” Beard told the Times. “On the flip side, things have changed.” California has 35,000 fewer inmates than when Beard testified in U.S. District Court in 2008, though that has not been enough to satisfy the judges, who want the population reduced by thousands more. Beard said inmate medical care is better now, and he has more understanding of California’s sprawling prison system. He no longer finds California prisons too large. He had told federal judges that it is difficult to safely run a prison with more than 3,300 inmates, according to court transcripts. Commenting on a California prison with 7,000 inmates, he had testified, “it is impossible to really do a good job with prisons that large.” “One of the things I didn’t know back then,” Beard said Tuesday, was how the prisons here were designed and built.” He said California creates prisons within prisons — three or four self-contained institutions within one facility — that allow for larger populations.