Commentary: Prison overcrowding must be addressed

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his team continue to suffer from multiple-policy disorder on prison overcrowding.

On one side, the governor declares a state of emergency and says it is absolutely possible to reduce prison population without harming public safety.

On the other side, his administration presents a plan to a three-judge federal court panel that says population reductions "cannot be accomplished without unacceptably compromising public safety."

This latest proposal, turned into the court last Friday, is make-believe and won't fool anyone. The aim is supposed to be to get California's 33 prisons — designed for 80,000 prisoners — down to 137.5 percent of capacity over two years. That requires going from 150,000 today to 110,000 inmates by July 2011.

Yet the Schwarzenegger administration presented a largely "build it and they will come" strategy, instead of a population reduction strategy. The plan relies heavily on construction — 764 beds the first year, 2,364 the second year, 3,904 the third year, 12,500 the fourth year, 16,150 the fifth year and 18,650 in the sixth year. Yeah, right.

The judges already have expressed deep skepticism about this in their August opinion, calling construction a merely "theoretical remedy" when everyone knows that construction remains "years away." They question whether construction of new prison space is "an actual, feasible, sufficiently timely remedy."

To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.