Prison Plan Reduces 30,000 Less Inmates Than Estimated
Instead of reducing prison overcrowding by 43,500 inmates, Schwarzenegger administration policy changes and legislation signed in October to thin the state’s inmate population will only result in a 13,400 decrease in inmates over two years, the Legislative Analyst said in a report issued January 25.
That total is well short of the maximum number of inmates set two weeks ago by a federal three-judge panel which ordered the state to lower its prison population from roughly 168,000 to 128,000. California is appealing the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the budget plan he presented January 8, the GOP governor proposes sending persons with no prior violent offenses who are convicted of various property and drug felonies to county jails for up to 366 days. Schwarzenegger says that would reduce the number of state prison inmates by 15,100 – when fully implemented.
Among the felonies that would send a person to jail rather than prison under the governor’s plan are: drug possession, grand theft, check fraud, receiving stolen property, possession of a controlled substance and sale of a controlled substance.
In October, Schwarzenegger signed SB 18 3X which increases the amount of good-time credits inmates can earn, increases the threshold for some property crimes from $400 to $950 and prevents the return of certain parolees such as those not sent to prison for a serious or violent elony and those who do not have to register as a sex offender.
Passed during a special session, the measure took effect January 25. Schwarzenegger defended the law at an appearance at the Sacramento Press Club.
“It’s not going to compromise public safety. We have a 70 percent recidivism rate that costs our state of California a tremendous amount of money,” the GOP governor said. “It’s better public safety and also it cuts down on the amount of money spent.”
The Legislative Analyst says that the governor’s proposal won’t save as much money as he claims — $250 million versus $291 million — but combined with steps taken in the current budget year, would lower inmate population by 24,500 during the next fiscal year which begins July 1.
“This would be lower than the 40,000-inmate population reduction that would be required under the ruling of the federal three-judge panel but would put the state closer to meeting that potential target,” the Legislative Analyst says.
The analyst notes – as have several counties – that half of the state’s jails are under court-ordered or self-imposed population caps, which means numerous inmates, are released early due to lack of space. In 2007, 200,000 jail inmates were released early, the analyst says.
Without more jail space, there isn’t room to accommodate the 15,100 additional inmates contemplated under the governor’s proposal.
A measure signed in May 2007, AB 900, provides $1.2 billion to build 13,000 more jail beds.
Despite the lower-than-estimated savings of the governor’s plan, the analyst recommends lawmakers approve the sending of persons convicted of certain property and drug crimes to jail, rather than state prison.
However, the analyst says to help create more jail beds, the state should give counties broader authority to put jail inmates under house arrest with electronic monitoring. Currently, house arrest is an option fo persons convicted of misdemeanors. The Legislative Analyst suggests expanding the electronic monitoring universe to inmates convicted of certain felonies.
The analyst recommends lawmakers pursue other efforts to lower prison population, such as releasing non-violent elderly inmates early.
Filed under: Budget and Economy
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