Calif. AG wants disclosure of prison plan

Legal News Line Sep. 29, 2008, 1:29am

Jerry Brown (D)

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-California Attorney General Jerry Brown filed a motion in federal court on Friday, demanding public disclosure of Federal Receiver J. Clark Kelso's $8 billion construction plan.

The move is the latest in a simmering legal and political battle between the state's prison officials, their powerful lobby and the state's top political leaders.

"If public money is being spent," Brown said, "the public has the right to know how it's going to be spent."

Kelso's plan for prison facility construction is a 917-page document containing information on the layout, design and amenities of the seven prison health care facilities.

Brown, a Democrat, contends that only 23 pages of the documents fall within the terms of the protective secrecy order granted by the court in earlier proceedings.

"To date, the proposed $8 billion medical upgrade for California's prisons has not been shared with the public," Brown said. "The people of California are entitled to see for themselves whether or not the plan meets constitutional minimums or instead goes way beyond what the Constitution requires under the Eighth Amendment, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment."

Brown first took legal action against the receiver earlier this month to block Kelso's attempt to force California to turn over $8 billion in state funds over the next five years for a prison health care facilities construction project.

Kelso has sought to have Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Controller John Chiang in contempt for refusing to release the $8 billion in funds.

Brown countered by saying the Legislature approved $7.4 billion in prison construction funds during the last fiscal year, money that hasn't yet been fully spent.

The Receiver's 917-page plan forms the basis for his request to seize $8 billion from the State Treasury to build prison facilities," the attorney general's office claimed on Friday.

"Attorney General Brown's motion honors the California Constitutional principle that government is accountable to the people," a press release issued by the attorney general's office stated. "Article I, Section 3 (b) of the California Constitution declares 'The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business...'"

Brown has been critical of the "veil of secrecy" around the prison construction plans and the billions it is demanding from the state government.

Prison funding has come under intense scrutiny in recent months as the state engaged in a historic budget battle that delayed approval of this fiscal year's budget for a record 85 days. Republicans and Democrats locked horns both against each other and with the governor over the state's $17.4 billion deficit.

Following a series of compromises, Schwarzenegger signed a budget he remained critical of earlier this week. State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, a former attorney general, called the budget one of the worst in decades.

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