Time is Running Out for Calif. Prison Plan

October 22, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Time is running out for Governor Schwarzenegger to come up with a better plan to reduce the state's prison population. Thursday a federal judicial panel rejected the state's proposal to set more than 20,000 inmates free. Governor Schwarzenegger slammed back at the federal judges who rejected the administration's inmate reduction plan to decrease the prison population by some 25,000. Their previous order calls for at least 40,000.

"Our federal judges are out of control. They think they are running the State of California. I think the legislature is running the State of California and the governor. I think the whole thing is out of control," said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Another failure to comply is trying the federal judges' patience. California's prisons have been stuffed to at least twice their capacity for years. Those overcrowded conditions were deemed unconstitutional.

The legislature has been arguing over how to solve it, letting the problem drag on.

Michael Vitiello has been studying prison reform for decades and says politicians are afraid to appear soft on crime. "It doesn't take much in private in talking to legislators to get them to admit they would much rather have the federal judges doing it, rather than them to take it on. Why? Because political cover," said Professor Michael Vitiello with University of the Pacific.

The judges ultimatum? Give them a real plan in three weeks or they'll let the inmates' attorneys come up with a plan, which will surely include early release.

While low-risk offenders are often at the top of the list when early release is discussed, time served could be considered instead. "If you're to be released within 12 months, they would say now it's 9 months. If you're to be released in two years, it's now a year-and-a-half. That doesn't take into account any of the actual offenses," said Matt Gray with Taxpayers for Improving Public Safety.

No matter how early release is determined, there are no guarantees public safety wouldn't be affected. "I can't promise that no one will commit a crime, but there's always a risk in everything we do," said Vitiello.

The governor vows not to take this lying down. While the state will respond with another plan in three weeks, it's also challenging the judges' authority over state prisons with the U.S. Supreme Court.




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