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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Calif. prison population expected to grow over next 5 years

LA TimesAfter declining for six years, California's prison population is expected to grow by 10,000 inmates in the next five years, complicating Gov. Jerry Brown's effort to abide by a court order to reduce overcrowding.

New state population projections show criminals heading to prison at the same rates expected before Brown began to shrink the prison population by keeping low-level, nonviolent felons in county jails after their convictions rather than sending them to state lockups.

The reason for the growing prison population is under debate.

County prosecutors dispute suggestions that they are more frequently pursuing charges that put felons in prison instead of jail. Others cite violent crimes committed by felons or parolees cycling in and out of overcrowded jails since the new prison policy, called realignment, took effect in October 2011.

State statistics do not show a rise in violent crime.

Even with room for 3,700 more beds planned over the next two years and the rollout of new parole programs Brown announced Thursday, California would be increasingly far from the inmate population limit set by the court.

The new projections were released by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in late December, months later than normal. The report comes as California faces the threat of contempt if it fails to meet an order by three federal judges to ease crowding in the state's 34 prisons.

The judges have ruled that prison overcrowding has created unconstitutionally dangerous conditions in those facilities.

"This is a scary problem, and I can see why they hid it," said Michael Bien, the lead attorney in one of two long-running class action lawsuits over prison deaths that led to the population caps.

Corrections officials said the report was not deliberately delayed but was subject to several months of internal review, prolonged by the need to explain the shift in direction. continue reading...

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