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Brown Vows To Take Prison Population Battle Back To Supreme Court

| April 23, 2013
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When it comes to California’s prison population, Gov. Jerry Brown is in a tough spot. On the one hand, federal judges are threatening him with contempt if he doesn’t reduce the state’s prison population by about 9,000 before the end of the year. On the other hand, groups such as Crime Victims United of California contend Brown’s realignment plan, which lowered inmate totals by about 25,000, has led to an uptick in violent crime.

California Governor Jerry Brown

California Governor Jerry Brown

The Democrat spoke to the group during a Tuesday afternoon rally. Appearing after numerous speakers had railed against realignment, Brown told the crowd that he’ll keep pushing to end federal oversight of California’s prison system, despite two recent court rulings stating the prison population is still so high that it violated the United States Constitution.

“I’m working every day to figure out how to take this case – which we’re losing now – to get in front of the U.S. Supreme Court,” Brown said, “So we don’t have to let out those 10,000 people. And I pledge to you I’ll do everything under the law to achieve that result.”

The Supreme Court upheld rulings ordering California to reduce its prison population in 2011, but Brown challenged the ongoing federal oversight again in January. At the time, he said the state had done enough to reduce its prison population to a current level of around 119,000 inmates. “The prison emergency is over in California,” he said, adding the state “can’t pour more and more dollars down the rat hole of incarceration.”

In its recent ruling, a three-judge panel said Brown’s refusal to comply with federal orders qualified as “contumacious conduct.”

“I’m not contemptuous and I’m not contumacious,” Brown replied on Tuesday. “In fact, I had to look in the dictionary to figure out what the hell that word meant. I’ve been called a lot of things in my life. Moonbeam. This and that, all sorts of things in the last 40 years. I had never been called contumacious until that three-judge panel issued their opinion.”

For the record, Merriam-Webster gives the definition as “stubbornly disobedient.”

While Brown is vowing to appeal the recent court rulings, he’ll also work to craft legislation aimed at further lowering California’s prison population. In the past, judges have suggested California could lower its inmate levels through a combination of early release, sentencing reform and an “expansion of evidence-based rehabilitative programming,” in addition to diverting parole violators and low-risk offenders to county jails.

But Brown warned new bills would come with a cost. “We’re not going to manufacture money,” he told reporters after the speech. “So anything they want to spend on prisons, they better find another place to cut it from.”

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About the Author ()

Sacramento bureau chief Scott Detrow covers state government, politics and policy for KQED News and its statewide news program, The California Report. Before joining KQED, Scott reported on Pennsylvania's natural gas drilling boom for NPR's StateImpact project. Reach Scott Detrow at sdetrow@kqed.org.

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