Calif. prison overhaul would save $1.5B a year |

Calif. prison overhaul would save $1.5B a year

DON THOMPSON, Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California prison officials on Monday released a wide-ranging reorganization plan that calls for halting a $4 billion prison-construction program and bringing back all inmates held out of state.

The master plan outlines the department’s recommendations for ending years of federal court oversight, overcrowding, poor inmate medical and mental health treatment, and soaring budgets. It comes at a time that the nation’s largest state prison system is being transformed by ongoing state budget deficits, federal court orders and a realignment ordered by the governor that shifts its focus to the most violent and dangerous offenders.

The plan was to be discussed later Monday at a Capitol news conference.

The changes are possible because of a state law that took effect Oct. 1 that shifts lower-level offenders from state prisons to county jails. That shift is the main consequence of a federal court order requiring the state to reduce its inmate population as a way to improve medical care.

Lowering the inmate population eliminates the need for $4.1 million in construction projects and will let the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reduce its annual budget by $1.5 billion, according to the document.

The plan calls for returning to state prisons by 2016 about 9,500 inmates who are currently housed in private prisons in other states. That move alone would save the state $318 million a year.

But prison officials also acknowledge that they will not meet a federal court-ordered June 2013 deadline for reducing the state’s prison population to end poor medical and mental health care.

The corrections department said it will ask federal judges to allow the state to keep an additional 6,000 inmates behind bars, exceeding the limit set by a special panel. The court’s order was upheld last year by the U.S. Supreme Court, but the high court also gave the state leeway to negotiate the final inmate count.

The state will continue building medical and mental health facilities that could let a federal judge end by next year a receivership that since 2006 has controlled inmate medical care, prison officials said.

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