Prisons: Facing Budget Crisis, California Governor Ponders Early Release of 22,000 Nonviolent Offenders

Faced with a $14 billion budget deficit next year, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is considering a proposal to slash ballooning prison spending by granting early release to some 22,000 nonviolent, non-sex offender inmates. The proposal would also cut the state's prison population by another 6,000 by changing the way parole violations are handled. But Schwarzenegger has not approved the proposal, and it is already generating political opposition.

With some 172,000 inmates, California's prison system is second only to the federal system in size, and its budget has ballooned by 79% in the last five years to nearly $8 billion. Still, the system is vastly overcrowded and faces two federal class-action suits seeking to cap inmate populations because overcrowding is resulting in the state not delivering constitutionally adequate medical and mental health care.

According to the California Department of Corrections' latest prisoner census, more than 35,000, or 20.6%, of those prisoners are doing time for drug offenses. Drug offenders, property offenders, and "other" nonviolent offenders together account for half the state prison population.

Under the plan, presented to the governor's office by his departmental budget managers, low-risk offenders with fewer than 20 months left in their sentences would be released early. That would save the state about $250 million in the coming fiscal year and more than $780 million through June 2010, according to the Sacramento Bee, which first broke the story last week. It would also involve cutting some 4,000 prison jobs, mostly for the state's highly paid prison guards, whose base salary is nearly $60,000 a year.

The proposal also calls for a "summary" parole system, where released offenders would remain under supervised release, but would not be returned to prison for technical parole violations, such as dirty drug tests or missing an appointment, but only if they are convicted of a new crime. Moving to a summary system would cut the average parole population by 18,500 in the next fiscal year and reduce the prison population by another 6,250, according to the proposal. It would also cost about 1,660 parole jobs. Altogether, changes in the parole system would save the state $329 million through June 2010.

While such a proposal would be groundbreaking if enacted, the odds appear long. Queried by the press after the Bee broke the story, Schwarzenegger spokesman Bill Maile said the governor had not decided if he liked the idea or not. "The governor asked his department heads to work with their budget managers to find ways to cut the budget by 10% because of the budget crisis we are facing, and this idea was one of many that was floated in reaction to that request," Maile said. "It's not a proposal yet, just an idea."

Early reaction from the political class has not been good. Rep. Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana), head of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, said Democratic reaction would range from skepticism to outright opposition. "Many of us are going to have some very strong concerns about whether it's the direction we want to begin taking," Solorio told the Bee in a followup story. Early releases are "DOA" with Assembly Republicans, he added.

Republican Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Orange), one of his party's criminal justice leaders, said early releases would undermine recently enacted Assembly Bill 900, a $7.9 billion measure that will add 53,000 jail and prison beds, but also establish rehabilitation as the philosophical underpinning of the state's prison system.

"By letting people out 20 months early, which is supposed to be when they get their reentry skills, they're not going to get them at all, so recidivism is going to get worse," Spitzer said. "This budget plan is a forfeiture of AB 900 principles, which was supposed to change how we treat criminality in California."

Republican political consultant Ray McNally was even more dramatic. "It's pretty clear, the governor has decided not to run for US Senate or other political office," said McNally, whose clients include the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. "You can't release 22,000 people from prison and expect to ever get elected to another office again. I think he's made his decision to retire from politics."

If Schwarzenegger braves the firestorm and adopts the proposal, he will probably include it in budget filings next month. If the proposal makes it to the final appropriations bill, that bill must pass with a two-thirds vote. There is a long way to go, but this proposal at least acknowledges that there might be a better path than just building more prisons.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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When they wanted him to run for President

Arnie was once the GOP wet dream; a real action hero. But, unlike narrow minded drug warriors, Arnie does have a conscience, a heart and some sense of fiscal responsibility. For not towing the party line, the GOP threw out the baby along with his populist 'religion.' If only Arnie had been gay "they" would have had him by the balls. Now lets see if Arnie has the brass balls needed to begin the end of the drug war in California.
As California goes, so go the rest of US. Let our children free.

Prisons: Facing Budget Crisis

Reducing California prison system costs, and literally saving billions, is not a very complicated undertaking.

Money can be saved by:

1. For an immediate fix to prison overcrowding, temporarily revise the Prison Work Incentive Program. The current one-third sentence reduction for low risk inmates can be increased to eliminate the 16,600 prison bed shortfall.

2. Release Requests for Proposals for 16,600 correctional beds to house short term, low risk offenders and technical parole violators. This would be a permanent fix to overcrowding.

These two changes save $518 million in annual prison operating costs and avoid spending any of the $6.5 billion in bond funds for unnecessary prison bed construction.

3. The temporary fix to the broken parole revocation system would involve the use of the above community correctional beds to house technical parole violators awaiting revocation action.

This change would result in an annual saving of about $.5 billion in prison operating costs.

4. For a permanent fix to the parole system, particularly the revocation system, establish a community corrections program with features similar to successful community corrections programs operated by Minnesota and Oregon since the early 1970s.

This change would make the savings in 3 permanent and also end political attacks on any efforts to improve the prison and parole system.

These changes would require actual political leadership in dealing with the major prison system problems, the lack of which has allowed an outstanding prison system to deteriorate into an expensive, very flawed. System.

Prisons: Facing Budget Crisis

.."such a proposal would be groundbreaking if enacted"? Hardly. Counties release about 20,000 offenders early each month due to jail overcrowding. Other Governors have used the same strategy. Our Governor would be walking in the exact footsteps of former Governor Reagan (and other former Governors) in dealing with a budget shortfall and prison overcrowding.

Governor Reagan reduced low risk inmate length of stay and closed a prison. He did it quickly and apparently without much concern about the political consequences. This Governor is a very timid politician who seems to be only concerned about his political image rather than trying to actually lead. Big disapointment.

Prisons facing budget crisis-

This state wastes way too much of it's taxpayer's money in law inforcement, court proceedings and jails/prisons in regards to low offenses involving marijuana. Way too much time is spent going after the little people who use marijuana as opposed to the way over use of alcohol that is legal. Just how much of our system and budget would be relieved if California would lighten up on marijuana users? Just what is so horrible about the people who smoke pot? They are more laid back, don't steal from or kill each other over pot. Can you pick a pot smoker out of a crowd? They look like any other person. And hey, just think of the money that would be brought into the system if marijuana was legalized. How much does alcohol and cigarettes bring in?

releasing nonviolent pot heads

The giant pharmacutical companies produce deadly and dangerous drugs that kill thousands of American's every year even when used exactly as directed by doctors. Alcohol and tobacco kill thousands more. And they all support The War on Drugs. Drug War Supporters recognize that safe and effective legal marijuana would cut into the sales of their dangerous deadly pharmacuticals.

Each American has the right to choose which medicine they want to use, and it is the responsibility of the Government to protect that right, not put them in jail for exercising it.

Prisons: Facing budget Crisis

I think the Governor is just making a big drama with the early release and the end nothing is going to happen. I know a lot of people in prison that are there for mistakes that everyone makes. It's all about how California prison Law is conducted. For instance, just for violating parole or probation you be sent to prison and your sentence doubles up or triples up. I have someone really close to me and that person hasen't receive time off of his sentence for good behavior. The governor and the Department of Corrections are not following the law, that is why prisons got so overcrowded and people are going in and out of prisons so often. I think the state should be spending our tax money in something valuable for inmates, and not to have them sent back to prison everytime they commit a tiny error. I think everyone deserves the chance to be release if they have done the majority of their time,with less than 20 months, with good behavior even if they are non-violents or violents. Everyone deserves this big opportunity. Please please give these people another chance. Hope this will touch hearts to forgive and give another chance.

First Break The kids ever got - Mom was put in prison -KEEP HER

I know this is off point as to the issue of prison over crowding and all the concern over the prisoners care. But I know someone in prison who will be released under the governors plan AND MOM BEING SENT TO PRISON WAS THE FIRST GOOD THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO HER CHILDREN. Being raised by a drug addict is a LIFE SENTENCE TO HELL FOR THESE CHILDREN. Often the only chance they have is when they're parents are put in jail.I have a little 5 year old who's mother was sent to prison for a non-violent crime - this baby has suffered so much neglect at the hands of her drug addict mother that it take a LIFE TIME FOR THIS CHILD TO GET over THE DAMAGE HER MOTHER CAUSED HER - that is much longier than the mothers current sentence. AND NOW MOMMY DEAREST COULD BE RELEASED EARLY. WRITE THIS CHILDS LIFE OFF!! But of course Mom should not be neglected in prison. There are far reaching effects of this early release plan. Ones that no one thinks about - like the kids of these prisoners that NEED FOR THEY'RE PARENTS TO STAY IN PRISON AND AWAY FROM THEM until there time to permanently resolve the problem for them. Yes everyone deserves chances EVEN THE LITTLE CHILDREN.

Overcrowding Budget crises

Legalize the humble weed. Tax grass like tobbacco and alcohal and charge for yearly permits to grow this would increase tax revenue and decreese tax expence. also would bring tax payers back to California to be in the land off the free with the constitutional right to pursue happiness. I know many responsible citizens in all walks of life that will smoke pot because they think its allright. Send this one to Arnold for His bong

Prisoners being released early

I'm all for the big release for the prisoners, its not the prisoners that make this world bad its the nieve people in it that make this world bad. For instence this country was taken over by criiminals, they killed people for land, inslaved people to work for them, they robbed, raped, assulted, tortured, trafficed, I mean they did everyrhing up under the sun if not more, then they make laws against the exact same crimes they commited to protect themselves. Now who ever does what they did or use to do is a criminal while they hide iin a suite & pimp the public out of there hard earned money by scaring the public with the release of 20,000 inmates.. The real criminals are the ones in the suites, the bad thing is people are to damn blind to see the truth. The best trick the devil pulled was convencing everyone that he didn't exsist.

Deeper cuts & higher taxes

Deeper cuts & higher taxes on the poor and the middle class in California will only increase the budget deficit. That is because the American people are overly stretched now. They just have no more to give. That means companies will not be able to sell their services & goods. And if you cut critical services, deeper & more costly problems will increase tremendously. So the simple solution is to tax high income earners. If you fail to do this, high income earners will pay dearly anyway. If you do tax high income earners, you will get a small down payment from CEO’s & executives that have been taking advantage & abusing the American people. In the future, the American people will invest in much safer investments especially the 401k, 403b, etc. investors. We simply will not invest in companies that pay their executives and CEO’s high &, enormous out of balance salaries & bonuses.

budget crisis.

The budget would not be as bad if all the politians would stop giving themselves raises. Giving the money back to the people that need the help. Start using the rehabilitation centers for the right purposes and keeping the drug users out of the jails. Only putting the violent offenders away and making them work to pay back the tax payers. California is way to nice to the offenders they let them watch TV, play video games, have wii's, Flat screen TV's etc. If they would not let these perisoners live in the jails as kings or queens they would want to better themselves once they get out. But because they have it made while in prison why would they want to come out and get a job.

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