[JURIST] California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger [official website] Thursday signed [official press release] a $7.7 billion bipartisan bill to construct facilities to provide 53,000 new prison and jail beds over the next five years to alleviate California's overcrowded prisons [JURIST news archive]. Last week state legislators approved [JURIST report] the Public Safety and Offender Rehabilitation Services Act of 2007 [AB 900 text], hoping to expand the state's prison infrastructure. Currently, 173,000 inmates are housed in facilities designed for 100,000. In a Thursday speech [text], Schwarzenegger emphasized the importance of rehabilitation programs in reducing California's 70 percent recidivism rate. Critics argue that the bill's $50 million increase on rehabilitation program spending is insufficient, and many had hoped the bill would mandate a review of the current penal code [text] and address sentencing reform.
In February, Schwarzenegger announced a plan to release prisoners convicted of nonviolent crimes [JURIST report] in response to various federal actions that could establish federal oversight of California's prison system [JURIST report] if the overcrowding problem is not resolved. Last week a three-judge panel said it could order California to release prisoners before their sentences are completed if the state does not address the issue on its own. Earlier in February a state court struck down an out-of-state inmate transfer plan [JURIST report] because California law prohibits the governor from contracting with private companies to perform jobs usually held by state employees. AB 900 gives the legislature "clear statutory authority to voluntarily and involuntarily transfer prisoners out-of-state for the next four years." AP has more.