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Supervisors Back Prison Crowding Compromise

Los Angeles County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe Tuesday urged their colleagues to support a compromise reached in Sacramento to reduce the state’s prison population.

Under federal court order to cut the number of inmates in crowded state prisons, Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers yesterday agreed to spend $315 million on substance abuse, mental health and rehabilitation programs – rather than paying for cell space in private prisons – if federal judges agree to extend an end-of-year deadline to release more than 9,600 prisoners.

Ridley-Thomas and Knabe proposed that county lawyers file a friend of the court brief in support of the state deal.

“This compromise is to be applauded,” Ridley-Thomas said. “From a policy perspective, we simply cannot continue to over-utilize incarceration as our sole public safety solution. It’s not practical, it’s not economical and it’s not moral. Reducing our prison population and halting recidivism will require us to adopt strategies for rehabilitation as well.”

Ridley-Thomas’ remarks followed local protests by community and civil rights activists seeking alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders and pushing for more money for programs to help released inmates cope outside of jail.

Knabe said the county must ensure that it is given the resources to deal with whatever the federal panel decides.

“We will either be on the hook to deliver more community-based services to an even riskier population of criminals, or we will continue to play host to more state prisoners in our county jails, or both,” Knabe said.

“I hope that the governor and Legislature will work with us to mitigate the challenges we are already experiencing with AB109 and insure adequate funding before adding more to our plates.”

A vote on the supervisors’ proposal is scheduled for next week.