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CA Passes Prison Reform

California has come up with a plan to reduce the state's inmate population. We're joined on Morning Edition by non-partisan Sacramento Political Consultant Leo McElroy. Leo, the plan will reduce the state's inmate population by a little more than half of the federal court order -- about 23,000 inmates -- but it doesn't satisfy that court order. Why didn't it go all the way?

Audio

Aired 9/22/09

California has revealed a plan to reduce the state's inmate population. We're joined on Morning Edition by non-partisan Sacramento Political Consultant Leo McElroy.

LEO MCELROY: Well, in the first place, the legislature didn't go all the way with the governor's plan which would have made additional cuts in the prison population and might have gotten us closer to the target that the feds wanted us to do. So the governor's kind of limited there, he's filling in the gaps here and there but he can't get the numbers up high enough to satisfy the feds who are not real happy with California. We've been suing them rather than complying, and it hasn't created a really good relationship, let's say.

ALAN RAY: Okay, we have two situations here, two conditions. First there's the three strikes law that sends a lot more people to prison than they went 20 years ago. At the same time you've got the prison guards just licking their chops every time somebody comes in the door. Talk about how those two situations play together.

MCELROY: Well, of course, the prison guards were the major force behind the three strikes that passed. There was another three strikes law in the legislature that would have applied three strikes only to violent crimes, and there are a lot of people that think that might have been a better law. But the prison guards really wanted the population up so they went for the one which basically can give you life for spitting on the sidewalk. And, in that situation, they got their wish, they got the prison population up and they got the federal government on our backs. The interesting thing is that the one out the governor may have in all this -- to try to comply with the feds if they begin to crack down -- is shipping prisoners out of state which will completely defeat what the prison guards ever wanted. They wanted the prison population up for more jobs. It may be that the only way we can comply is farming prisoners out to other states, and that will take away prison guard jobs.

DWANE BROWN: How likely is that to happen?

MCELROY: Not unlikely at all. There is some plan for farming out some prisoners now in the inadequately numbered governor's plan. One of the few things that could be increased in there is the amount of prisoners being sent to other states, so this could happen. I mean, he's talking about taking people to other states, he's talking about starting to put prisoners into privately run prisons, of which there are some in California -- that presently do not accept California prisoners. They take prisoners from other states, and that's because the prison guards union has fought against them being a recipient for getting California prisoners. So, there are options, but none of those options are ones that the prison guards union is going to be really happy about.

RAY: We have a special commission getting ready to recommend a sweeping overhaul of the state's tax system, as I've read putting more of the burden on business and taking more of the burden off of individuals. How might that happen?

MCELROY: Well, the one thing that everybody's known about the California economy is it's unstable with regard to how we're taxing it. For example, there's been a consistent awareness that the sales tax applies to good being sold but not to services being sold, and a lot more California businesses are service-oriented. So, if you're selling cups of coffee you charge a sales tax but if you're selling legal advice you don't. And, for some time, there's been the effort being hyped up to try to apply the sales tax to services so that businesses across the board are all receiving a tax levy on what they're making. That hasn't flown -- it's been fought tooth and nail -- so now the commission is putting forward a sort of a value added tax, that would cut across the board on businesses without being a sales tax. The predictable response, of course, from the businesses is no, we don't like that at all. There's some acceptance of some of their proposals -- they want to flatten out the income tax, for example, and it would ease the burden on the wealthy. That, of course, is creating some screams from those who are not being eased and creating some sighs of relief from those who are. But the one big problem is that that tax commission can't agree on what it wants to put forward.

BROWN: All right, Leo, we're going to have to leave it there. Leo McElroy is a non-Partisan Sacramento political consultant.

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