Facing a court-ordered deadline to reduce overcrowded state prison populations, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger released a plan last Friday (PDF) that would revisit a previously rejected “early release” program, along with other measures.
Early release would place elderly, medically infirm inmates and some prisoners with less than 12 months left to serve on their sentence under house arrest with GPS monitoring. Thus, an elderly or ill inmate could be “housed” in a hospital or treatment center.
Previously, Newsdesk.org reported that California’s underfunded public health systems are already struggling to absorb existing parolees, and that local officials fear that situation will worsen as the state tries to meet the court-imposed mandate to lower the prison population by 40,000 over the next two years.
The state estimates that early release, also known as “alternative custody,” could reduce the prison population by 4,800 inmates, but the measure was rejected by the California assembly earlier this month due to public-safety concerns.
“You do have a lot of hysteria that was whipped up,” California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) told reporters in late August. “We were going to release all these people, and that scares folks.”
Gov. Schwarzenegger emphasized that the proposal is tough on crime by calling it a “comprehensive public safety plan.”
Other components of the proposal include:
* Building, re-purposing or renovating 21 prisons by using $6.4 billion set aside through Assembly Bill 900.
* Expanding California’s out-of-state correctional facility program by an additional 5,000 inmates.
* Forming a 13-member sentencing commission to create sentencing guidelines based on research and empirical data.
* Changing the threshold for a felony property crime (grand theft) from $400 in stolen goods to $950.
Debate about whether the governor’s plan is tough or even smart on crime will continue, but it also doesn’t take a mathematician to see that for all of its potential strengths and weaknesses, the plan doesn’t meet the court mandate 40,000 fewer prisoners by 2011.
Under the current proposal, it would take five years to meet the court’s reduction goals.
Gov. Schwarzenegger’s plan also relies on the uncertain cooperation of the state legislature; the state assembly has already abandoned some of his proposed reforms — such as the early-release program — that he reintroduced last Friday.