The high court ruled that overcrowding in the prison system lead to inadequate medical and mental health care and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer says the public shouldn't be alarmed by the court ruling, but believes there's reason for concern. "This order will not result in people being released from prison back into communities but it will decrease the prison population over time by deferring people away from the prisons that normally would have been there."
Dyer notes, that's not going to be easy. "To try to shift 33 thousand inmates back to local communities over a two year period is going to be very challenging for the state of California especially when we already have a strained criminal justice system and overcrowded jails. There's a good likelihood we're going to see increases in crime throughout California."
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims says if she had room she could house inmates for half the cost of the state prison system, but doesn't believe filling up county jails with those who should be in prison is the answer. "We cannot arrest our way and keep people in jail out of our current crime problems. Treatment and transition beds have to be part of the solution." Mims said.
Prison reform advocate Debbie Reyes of the California Prison Moratorium Project believes the nearly $50,000 dollars a year the state spends to keep each inmate in prison could be put to better use. "We want to see that money go into community based programs that will help those prisoners transition into our society."
Governor Jerry Brown says Assembly Bill 109, which calls for a realignment of the prison and parole system could accomplish what the high court wants, but while the measure has been approved the legislature has refused to fund it.
Assembly Member Henry Perea says lawmakers will have to get to work. "So I think as a legislature we need to take a serious look at this and figure out how we implement it in a smooth way."
The court ruling gives the state two years to figure out how to reduce the prison population. Dyer says an effort is underway to seek an additional two years to help the state ease into the transition.