As three federal judges weigh the next step in California's prison overcrowding crisis, a new poll shows that a majority of state residents back the recent legislative plan to reduce the prison population by about 10,000 more inmates over the next three years.
In a wide-ranging poll released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California, 52 percent of Californians supported using rehabilitation programs at sentencing to relieve overcrowding instead of releasing current inmates, compared with 39 percent opposed to the plan crafted recently by Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature.
A three-judge panel earlier this week gave state officials more time to work out the details with lawyers for the inmates, extending a deadline to remove nearly 10,000 inmates from California's 33 prisons until at least January.
The poll also covered a host of other pressing state and national issues, finding stronger support for legalizing marijuana and indications Californians believe their local school districts are wisely spending a new infusion of state money. Among the PPIC poll findings:
Meanwhile, a majority of Californians approve of President Barack Obama's job performance -- 55 percent -- but that number is below 60 percent for the first time in more than a year. Just under half of Californians approve of Gov. Jerry Brown's job performance, about the same as past polls.
The poll also found that a majority of Californians are opposed to the use of fracking for oil resources, and a large majority oppose military air strikes in Syria.
The poll's findings on California prison overcrowding indicates that voters are particularly concerned about the public safety implications of releasing inmates, as opposed to the legislative plan, which relies on using substance abuse and mental health programs at sentencing of criminals to reduce the number of inmates flowing back into the system.
Forty-seven percent of Californians are "very concerned" and 31 percent "somewhat concerned" about the early release of inmates, which has been ordered by the federal court. If the court does not approve the new plan and insists on reducing the inmate population early next year, the governor plans to spend about $300 million to move inmates to private and out-of-state prisons.
"Crime and public safety issues are surfacing in California today," said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. "Public confidence in local governments to handle the responsibilities of state-local corrections realignment is declining, while many also express concern about the possible early release of state prisoners."
Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz.