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Sentencing: California Governor Signs Bill To Shorten Parole for Offenders Who Take Drug Treatment

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) quietly signed a bill Saturday that will allow nonviolent offenders to get off parole early if they complete an intensive drug treatment program. Under the new law, parolees who wish to participate will be sent directly to a five-month residential treatment program. Upon graduation, they will get off parole.

The new law will take effect in January. Only nonviolent offenders will be eligible, and they must have completed at least six months of drug treatment while in prison.

Post-release parole has proven onerous for many offenders. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 47% of parolees are returned to prison as parole violators. These are people who committed administrative infractions -- failing to notify the parole officer of a new address or new job, coming up positive on a drug test -- not new criminal offenses. An additional 15% of parolees are returned to prison on new criminal charges. There are currently more than 116,000 people on parole in California.

Sponsored by state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), the bill won the support of a variety of groups, including the powerful prison guards union. "Parolees who demonstrate that level of commitment to treatment deserve recognition for their effort, union spokesman Lance Corcoran told the Los Angeles Times Wednesday. "It's a concept worth supporting," he said. "The only question is how they are going to come up with enough drug treatment beds for everybody who qualifies.

Sen. Speier told the Times she sponsored the measure because about three-quarters of the state's 172,000 inmates have drug or alcohol issues. "If we can help them conquer their addictions and get them off this treadmill of returning to prison, we'll save the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars," Speier said.

Now the question is where the money is going to come from. The state will save $4,340 per year for each ex-convict it doesn't have to supervise. The bill signed this week does not earmark any funds for expanded treatment, but Speier suggested the savings on parole costs could pay for new beds.

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