The governor reached out to Assembly Speaker John Perez, Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway and state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff to put together a bipartisan package to place state prisoners in privately owned facilities. To pay for the program, Sacramento will have to raid budget reserves to the tune of about $415 million per year.
"I always tell the governor," Conway later quipped, "I love it when he channels his inner Republican." For their part, Conway and Huff had to hold back the temptation to criticize Brown for not spending some of the $7.4 billion in bond funds approved in 2007 to build more prisons.
Perez has the thankless task of standing with Brown and GOP leaders as state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg pushes an alternative plan that screams the sort of soft-on-crime thinking that drove up crime in the Golden State until voters approved a three-strikes ballot measure in 2000. Steinberg proposed spending $200 million per year on drug treatment and mental health programs; in exchange, prison inmate attorney Donald Specter might agree to a legal settlement that would give the state three years to reduce the prison population, not four months.
If an attorney for inmates might agree to keep some 10,000 inmates in prison, that says two things: The prisoner lobby can live with the status quo, and maybe it's afraid of what happens if too many inmates go free. As Scheidegger blogged, "if you release prisoners in order of dangerousness, the danger to the public safety per prisoner released increases as you go along."