Prisoner-transfer bans rejected

APRIL 27, 2010


In a sometimes contentious Public Safety Committee hearing earlier this month, Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, presented SB1078 dealing with the transfer of California’s prison inmates to out-of-state prisons, as well as prisons out of the country.

Denham described his bill as “prison transfer scams” and stated “the intent of the bill is to ensure California inmates who are transferred to prisons out of the state will serve their full sentence.”

California was ordered in 2006 by the federal government to relieve the overcrowding in California prisons, which at the time, was nearly 200 percent of planned prison capacity. In 2006, citing severe overcrowding in California’s prisons, Gov.  Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an emergency executive order allowing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to send California prisoners to out-of-state prisons, however according to Denham, prisoners are avoiding fulfilling their entire sentences under the arrangements.

Denham cited the case of Annika Ostberg Deasy, who was sentenced in 1983 to life in prison for two brutal murders. But she was eventually transferred to a prison in her home country of Sweden. Swedish officials announced they will release her next year. To avoid the death penalty, Deasy pleaded guilty to two first degree murders, including the murder of a Lake County sheriff’s sergeant.

Denham’s bill would provide that no inmate sentenced under California law may be committed or transferred outside of this state unless the governor personally approves the transfer — a point that Denham brought up as the central issue several times. The bill “would place requirements on agreements to transfer inmates outside of this state, including that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ensure that in any agreement to transfer an inmate outside of this state the receiving state or country shall not release the inmate before the inmate serves his or her full sentence.”

The California Correctional Police Officers Association (CCPOS) and Police Chief’s Association supported Denham’s bill, stating it would “save California jobs” by stopping the export of  (prison) jobs out of state. The Police Chiefs Association representative supported the bill and said it would help victims deal with the frustration of being victimized by criminals.

Opponents of the bill included the California Public Defenders Association and Taxpayers for Improving Public Safety, concerned about foreign government treaties with the U.S.

Committee Chairman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, disagreed with Denham several times during the hearing citing the issue of honoring foreign treaties with foreign-born prisoners. Denham responded that foreign treaties take a back seat as “the first allegiance is to our country and state.”  Denham also offered that if the bill needed to be pared down, the most important issue is to have the governor sign off on any transfers, out-of-state or out-of-country.

Denham had support from Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, who agreed: “It sounds like good government to have the governor sign off on all transfers.”

Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, disagreed on several fronts including “drifting between revenge and public safety” with prison transfers. “Seeking revenge does not make anyone safer,” added Wright.

Leno questioned Denham several times about the need for the bill when there had only been 15 foreign transfers in the past three years, yet “there are 65 foreign treaties at risk.”

Leno also brought up the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) recommendation that California increase the utilization of the foreign transfer program.

Denham did not disagree with the LAO’s findings but continued to stress the need for the governor to sign all transfer requests, leading audience members to surmise that he and Leno had had previous discussions and disagreements about the issue.

Denham stated that he “will be happy when justice is served on behalf of the victims of the state.” The legistion was voted down in committee.

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