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Prison-crowding relief plan behind schedule

August 13, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Even after being ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce its prison population, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation admits it probably won't be able to meet the mandate of 137.5 percent of capacity by the June 2013 deadline, roughly 6,000 to 8,000 inmates too many.

Instead, the agency will ask to raise the cap to 145 percent, defending the move by saying it's not the number that counts.

"We are making great progress towards improving the quality of health care in the prison system and that's really what the federal courts were interested in," said Corrections Dept. spokesman Jeffrey Callison.

California's prison system is famously overcrowded, so much so that inmates were dying because they couldn't see a doctor. Reducing the prison population was seen as a way to bring health care up to Constitutional standards.

The fact that the state can't bring the numbers down angers the attorney representing prisoners.

"Even after they lose, even after the Supreme Court affirms a ruling saying reduce the population to about 110,000 prisoners, the state still keeps fighting it," said Don Specter, director of the Prison Law Office.

Governor Jerry Brown's "realignment" plan began sending low-level criminals to county jail instead of prison in the fall. The plan isn't relieving overcrowding enough.

Specter says one answer stands out: Give out more "good time" credit, which critics call "early release."

"Scientific materials show that cutting a few months off a prisoner's sentence doesn't affect public safety one bit," said Specter.

Crime Victims Action Alliance thinks the feds have had it with California and will order early release.

The group points out residents are already paying the price of sending low-level criminals to counties. It will get worse under an early-release order.

"Crime is on the rise - violent crime and property crime. And now we're going to have more people coming out into our communities that really shouldn't be here," said Christine Ward, executive director of the Crime Victims Action Alliance. "Early releases, it's going to be huge."

Corrections has until Friday to tell the court how, among other things, it'll identify inmates unlikely to re-offend for potential early release.


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