Pubdate: Tue, 13 May 2008
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Page: A1, Front Page
Copyright: 2008 The Sacramento Bee
Note: Does not publish letters from outside its circulation area.
Author: Andy Furillo, Sacramento Bee
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has dumped his plan to release about 
22,000 lower-risk inmates from prison before they complete their 
terms, The Bee learned Monday.

The revised budget he will present on Wednesday will jettison the 
plan, which would have freed prisoners doing time for crimes such as 
drug possession and car theft who had less than 20 months to go on their terms.

The governor had sought the change as part of a 10 percent, across- 
the-board general fund budget cut to deal with a multibillion-dollar deficit.

His plan was unlikely, however, to win support in upcoming budget 
negotiations. Not a single legislator in the state had expressed 
support for the idea.

Press secretary Aaron McLear confirmed that Schwarzenegger will drop 
the early release plan but declined to comment further.

Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana, 
welcomed its demise.

"I'm sure the governor realized that up and down the state, no one 
wants to see prisoners released early," Solorio said. "I was an early 
advocate for dropping that plan, and I'm glad that he's realizing 
people need to serve their time."

Critics of the state prison system had seen the early release 
proposal as a possible opening to a wholesale overhaul of 
California's approach to handling criminals.

Dan Macallair, the executive director of the Center on Juvenile and 
Criminal Justice, expressed disappointment with the governor's 
decision to back away from early release.

"The correctional crisis in California cannot be solved through the 
normal political processes of Sacramento," Macallair said. "This is 
just another example of that. Nobody has the courage to do the right thing."

California's prisons are jammed to about twice their designed 
capacity. The overall prison population is a little more than 170,000.

In submitting the early release proposal in January, the governor's 
budget writers said it could have saved the state nearly $1.2 billion 
through the 2009-10 fiscal year.

On Monday, administration sources said the main factor in their 
decision to withdraw the idea is that the inmate population has been 
dropping on its own over the past year. They said the prison system 
is now housing 2,107 fewer inmates every day in the current budget 
year than the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation 
had anticipated. The sources asked for anonymity because the revised 
budget has not yet been made public.

Fewer inmates coming in from the courts and fewer parolees returning 
to prison for violating the technical conditions of their releases 
from custody are accounting for the lower population numbers, the sources said.

Together, the result has been an estimated savings this year of $27.9 
million, they said. Projections for next year indicate the potential 
for another $78.2 million in savings.

Along with early release, the administration had sought to achieve 
budget savings through what it called a "summary parole" plan.

Schwarzenegger intends to stick with that piece of his proposal. 
Offenders who violate their parole conditions but don't commit new 
crimes wouldn't be returned to prison under that plan. They would 
still be subject to warrantless searches by local law enforcement.

While the governor is planning to withdraw the early release plan, 
efforts to cap the prison population are still the subject of ongoing 
litigation in the federal courts.

"There's more than one way to skin a cat," said Don Specter, director 
of the nonprofit Prison Law Office in San Rafael. His firm is 
representing inmates in cases where the state's provision of medical 
and mental health care in the prisons has been found to be unconstitutional.
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