A guard tower at the California Institute for Men in Chino.
A guard tower at the California Institute for Men in Chino. (File Photo)
CHINO - A three-judge panel last week granted California six more months to meet a prison population benchmark and while some local officials see the state prison system slowly making positive strides, others are not happy with the federal judges' decision.

"I've dealt with the Department of Corrections for 21 years now, and they're great at double talk and they're always inept in operating the Department of Corrections," Chino Mayor Dennis Yates said.

"It took a federal judge that knows nothing about corrections to intercede to tell them how to do their job and this has been going on for years."

In 2009, the panel capped the state prison population after determining the grossly overcrowded conditions were hindering a constitutional level of health care to the inmates.

The courts originally required the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to reduce its population to 137.5 percent of design capacity by June 27. The department now has until Dec. 31 to meet that goal.

In neighboring Chino Hills, Mayor Peter Rogers said as long as the state is making progress, another six months seems reasonable.

"This isn't a quick fix, that's my thinking. This isn't just a quick fix," Rogers said.

The mayor said he has toured the California Institution for Men while on the city's Citizens Advisory Committee and has witnessed how overcrowded the prison was compared to what it is now calling the population drop "significant progress."

In response to the original ruling in 2009, Gov. Jerry Brown instituted the Prison Realignment Program, or Assembly Bill 109, on Oct. 1, 2011, which transferred the responsibility of monitoring nonviolent, nonserious offenders to county jurisdictions.

Through A.B. 109, the state's prison population dropped dramatically reducing its numbers by 24,000 inmates. Although, currently, the population is still about 9,000 over the target number of 110,000.

The population at CIM was 5,997 prior to the realignment. Its population as of Jan. 23 is 4,692, or 157.7 percent of its design capacity, according to CDCR data.

With the June deadline quickly approaching, Brown petitioned the federal judges for more time, warning the panel that to meet the requirements it would mean releasing more serious inmates early from prison.

Prison realignment has to date not released any state prisoner early from any California institution.

Prison officials said they believe the court should go further and terminate the population cap entirely pointing out the progress made in the nearly two years since A.B. 109 was implemented has now allowed the CDCR to provide inmates with a constitutional level of health.

Jeffrey Callison, spokesperson for the CDCR, said the department has invested a significant amount of resources to its health care system, and it's now clear, not only to them but to experts, that they are providing constitutional level of health care.

"So our position is there is no need to continue reducing the population to that court-ordered level because we are already satisfying the whole point to the exercise," Callison said.

However, Receiver Clark Kelso wrote in a report filed Jan. 25 in federal court that there's "no conclusive evidence" the state has yet reached the ability to provide that level of health care.

Yates, though, wonders what happened to the $7.7billion approved in 2007 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for prison construction and rehabilitation known as Assembly Bill 900.

"They keep putting things off and like some of our Assembly members and legislators do, they keep kicking the can and you know, guess what? People step in like the federal judges and say, `You can't keep kicking the can down the road and not do anything,"' Yates said.

"The state Legislature is just as guilty as the Department of Corrections. I know they're cognizant of the problem, but no one has done anything about the budget and no one has done anything about anything. And this is a prime example of kicking a can down the road."

Callison said CDCR officials will continue to make the case to the court that there is no need to continue reducing the population.


Reach Canan via email, call her at 909-987-6397 ext. 425, or find her on Twitter @ChinoValleyNow.