State Scales Back Prison Plan

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It's been a little over a year since California's legislature passed a $7 billion plan to expand the state's prison capacity to ease overcrowding. But Wednesday, California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told lawmakers the cost of building those new prison beds has jumped dramatically in a year. KPCC's Julie Small reports the state is scaling back the prison plan.

Julie Small: Assembly Bill 900 authorized Corrections and Rehabilitation to build 16,000 new prison beds for inmates. But the department's construction boss Deborah Hysen says the state can only afford to build only half those beds.

Deborah Hysen: I would love to be able to come forth with a plan that builds all 16,000 beds for the funding, but the reality I'm facing is that the construction costs are what they are.

Small: And what they are is higher. Prison officials say they had to build more maximum security cells. They're more expensive than dormitory beds for lower risk inmates. Also, the price of steel and cement is up because overseas demand is greater.

Hysen acknowledges lawmakers won't be happy that the $7 billion they allocated for more prison beds won't reduce overcrowding as much as they wanted, but she says she hopes they'll still approve a modified plan for more prison space.

Hysen: It's going to be hard whether you're Republican or Democrat, you know, for construction or not for construction, and I think we recognize that. But having said that, we have a need. We have a population crisis. We have stakeholders that are outside watching how we are going to respond to this. And we believe this is the prudent response to the situation we face.

Small: A panel of three federal judges might cap California's prison population to reduce overcrowding. State lawmakers had hoped their plan to build more beds would convince the judges not to do that.