Kern County could play big role in governor's prisoner reduction plan

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Kern County could be the destination for a lot of state prison inmates under the governor's latest plan to comply with a federal order.On Thursday, the Assembly budget committee approved Gov. Jerry Brown's latest plan that calls for leasing more private jail space, including more than 2,000 beds in eastern Kern County. A federal court has ordered California to reduce the inmate population in state prisons by 9,600 inmates by the end of the year. The new plan released this week by Brown calls for delay of the closure of the 3,500-bed California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, and spending $730 million over two years to rent space in private prisons in California and other states, as well as leasing vacant county jail cells. In eastern Kern County, the plan could make use of the facility in California City that's operated by that city and Corrections Corporation of America. It has 2,304 beds. "Tuesday's announcement (of the governor's new plan) demonstrates the flexibility our company has to meet the changing needs of our government partners," CCA spokesman Steven Owen told Eyewitness News in a statement. "We appreciate this opportunity, and look forward to continuing our work with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation." California City manager Tom Weil said the facility now houses federal inmates from the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But, he said they currently hold only about 900 to 1,000 of those inmates. Other facilities in Kern County that could be used for state inmates includes Shafter's Community Correctional Facility. That has about 600 bed, according to city manager John Guinn. On Wednesday, he told Eyewitness News he has continued to talk with Sacramento officials about making use of their space. That jail emptied out when the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation stopped using it for state inmates under so-called "prison realignment." That earlier plan to reduce state prison populations put more inmates into county jail systems. The same thing happened at the CCF in Taft. That community's police chief said he is also still negotiating with the state to use the 512 beds there. With the current federal order to further reduce prison population by nearly 10,000, city managers in Shafter and California City both mentioned the concerns about having those additional inmates just released to the streets, if no other plan is in place. The governor had previously proposed early parole for sick and elderly inmates, more good-conduct credits for some other inmates, plus more inmates in firefighting camps, and a slower return of inmates from private prisons in other states. Meanwhile, democrats in the state Senate released their own plan on Wednesday. That calls for negotiating a settlement with inmates' attorneys that includes a three-year delay in the release of the required prisoners, and additional funds for rehab and treatment programs. While the governor's new plan got the green light Thursday from the Assembly budget committee, it still faces hurdles. Observers say the proposal next goes to the full Assembly, and if passed there it would go over to the state Senate and likely strong opposition. Even backers say they worry about the governor's proposal, because $315 million for this year would be taken from the state's $1.1 billion reserve. Lawmakers are concerned, but some put the blame on the federal judges ordering the reduction. "There is bipartisan frustration with the federal judges imposing this order," assembly member Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, said at the budget committee hearing. "In my opinion (they're) being irresponsible in forcing the state to have to spend $315 million of additional funding to address this crisis."