Dan Walters

Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

Eight months ago, while asking federal judges to modify an order to reduce overcrowding in the state’s prisons, Gov. Jerry Brown uttered these words: “We can’t pour more and more money down the rat hole of incarceration. We have to spend as much as we need, but no more, and I think we’ve hit that point.”

Never mind.

With the courts – including the U.S. Supreme Court – insisting on dropping the inmate population by another 10,000 inmates, Brown on Tuesday said he wants to spend even more money on incarceration – down the rat hole, so to speak – to avoid releasing felons he said could threaten the public.

“This is the best we can do under the circumstances,” said Brown, flanked by legislators and law enforcement and local government officials. “This gives us some breathing room.”

Brown has the support of Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, as well as Republican legislators, for his plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to shift inmates from the prison system into other forms of custody, rather than release them.

But that puts him at odds with a coalition of prisoner rights groups that had supported an earlier reduction plan that would have released many of the 10,000 felons at issue. And it alienates Darrell Steinberg, the president pro tem of the state Senate, who wants money for mental health programs as an alternative to prison, as well as other liberal legislators.

“The governor’s proposal is a plan with no promise and no hope,” Steinberg said in a statement. “As the population of California grows, it’s only a short matter of time until new prison cells overflow and the court demands mass releases again.”

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