Governor Must Call Special Session to Deal with Prisons

Monday, August 12, 2013

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to reduce overcrowding and the time constraints of the current legislative session, State Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) sent a letter to Governor Brown urging him to call a Special Session of the Legislature.

A Special Session dedicated to dealing with California’s prison system will allow lawmakers to reassess the demands of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and to consider legislative action to help the state meet population targets without further compromising public safety.

Below is a copy of the letter State Senator Jim Nielsen sent to Governor Brown:

August 12, 2013

The Honorable Edmund G. Brown, Jr.
Governor of California
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA  95814

RE: Prison Crisis/Special Session

Dear Governor Brown:

The United States Supreme Court’s ruling to deny your request to stay further compliance with the federal order to reduce overcrowding in California prisons was a bipartisan disappointment.

More critically, it sets into motion a potential criminal justice crisis, which you and four former California governors sought to avert. Coming as it does, just days after Attorney General Kamala Harris announced that California crime had increased in every major category; the need for a change in direction cannot be overstated. In your petition to the United States Supreme Court, you argued that further reduction to California’s prison population would jeopardize the safety of Californians. Now, you are considering a number of alternatives which will do just that.

Blaming the Supreme Court for California’s prison crisis is neither fruitful nor accurate. As early as 2007, we knew this day would come. Bipartisan plans which authorized and funded 32,000 infill and reentry beds were abandoned in favor of prison realignment. Now, it is apparent that the state is unable to house even those inmates who have distinguished themselves by committing serious or violent felonies.

California’s prison crisis is not the product of a single decision or a single Administration. The task of crafting solutions should not be limited to alternatives which appease a Three Judge Federal Court. Accordingly, I respectfully request that you call a Special Session of the Legislature so that the demands on our prison system can be reassessed and the state can meet population targets without further compromising public safety.

In just two years between January of 2011 and January of 2013, California’s prison incarceration rate dropped from 20th (439 per 100,000 residents) to 33rd (351 per 100,000 residents) among the 50 states.

After years of being urged to embrace innovative alternatives to incarceration employed in Oregon, Ohio, Wisconsin and even Texas, California finds itself with a prison incarceration lower than all those states. Even the Pennsylvania prison system, long administered under the guidance of your CDCR Secretary Jeffery Beard, had an incarceration rate of 398 per 100,000 residents (12/31/12). If California facilities could accommodate the same ratio of inmates as Pennsylvania’s state system, 18,000 additional prisoners could be housed without resorting to emergency action.

Stopgap measures which temporarily reduce California prison population to levels below the federal formula for overcrowding will leave California prisons in perpetual crisis. California must take back its prison system so that every increase in inmate population of even 100 felons does not trigger a new array of federal court orders. This requires immediate legislative action.

I look forward to working with you to address this public safety crisis.


Jim Nielsen
Senator, Fourth District

Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg
Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff
Speaker John Perez
Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway