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Law to let some female inmates serve at home

September 13, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A plan that could allow more than 4,000 female inmates to walk out of prison early is stirring controversy across the state.

The new law, signed by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last year, changes what incarceration means. As of this week, it no longer has to involve cell blocks.

Once a year, kids get to visit their incarcerated moms for Mother's Day.

But under California's new Alternative Custody Program, kids could see their moms every day: Low-level, non-violent, non-sex-offender female inmates with less than two years left on their sentences will be able to serve the remainder at home.

"Mothers can go back into their own home and care for their children while also obtaining rehabilitative services outside in their own community of their last legal residence," said Dana Toyama, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

It's not totally a "get-out-of-jail-free" card. The women have to wear a GPS ankle bracelet, be enrolled in classes or rehabilitation, and report to parole officers. They could also get job.

They'll be thrown back in prison if they commit a new crime.

About half of the state's 9,500 female inmates are eligible.

The move will help the state meet a court order to reduce its prison population and maybe reduce the likelihood the children will end up in a life of crime.

Crime Victims United calls this move "early release" and is worried about the children, who the group says might be better off in foster care.

"If they really have loved their children and were good mothers, they would have never gone to prison in the first place," said Harriet Salarno, president of Crime Victims United.

"It's not an early release program. It's alternative custody," said Toyama.

Suzanne Dorman has had a number of friends incarcerated. She supports home detention.

"It means so much to a mother to be at home with their children, despite some of the bad choices they made," said Dorman.

But Dorman can't say definitively whether alternative custody would prevent some of her friends from re-offending.

"That's kind of hard to say because it's ultimately the decision of the mom to make choices that are good," said Dorman.

"You don't go to state prison for minor offenses. These are serious and violent offenders," said Salarno. "And now they're going to come out with no rehabilitation?"

Since state policy cannot discriminate, the Corrections Dept. might also extend the program to men who are deemed primary caregivers of their children. They must also be deemed low-level, non-sex-offender, and non-violent inmates.

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