After the U.S. Supreme Court evaluated California's prison system, it ordered the Golden State to make substantial changes to ease overcrowding. The Los Angeles Times now reports that the state received a Friday deadline to devise a plan that empties more cells.
Is the early release of prisoners a possibility under the latest court order?
Federal judges overseeing California's compliance note the gradual stagnation in the state's prison population decline. They ordered state officials to present a plan -- by Friday -- that shows how California will comply with the June 2013 target date to end prison overcrowding. Part of this plan is the identification of inmates who are "unlikely to reoffend or who might otherwise be candidates for early release."
Will the prison realignment fix some of the overcrowding?
The California Department of Corrections publishes the details of the realignment project, which shows a shift of responsibility for California's inmate population. State prisoners who are non-serious, non-violent and non-sex offenders now go to county jails. As noted by the Economist, this move should have succeeded in reducing overcrowding to the court-mandated 137.5 percent. Already, by May 2012, it succeeded in reducing overcrowding to 155 percent.
Is the change from state prison to county jail incarceration problematic?
The New York Times points out that California's county jails are not designed to hold prisoners for terms exceeding one year. Cells are small, there few of the programs that prisons offer and even yard time may be non-existent. Fresno County has begun to release prisoners early, just to make room for newcomers. It has also opened up jail space, which was previously closed off due to budget constraints.
Are the counties weighing alternatives to incarceration?
As outlined by Contra Costa Times, the L.A. County sheriff notes that it costs between $72 and $112 to incarcerate an inmate in the county jail for one day. In Taft, this cost is only $60. If the inmate were to be released and monitored with an ankle bracelet, the cost goes down to about $15 per day. Los Angeles County is considering the ankle bracelet method for monitoring those who would usually be in jail awaiting trial. This is in line with the findings of the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury, which released a 17-page report on the savings this program would offer to this county.
What is going to happen to the California prisoners serving their sentences out of state?
In the past, the State of California exported its prison population to other states, where Corrections Corporation of America took on the duty of housing the inmates. California Watch now notes that the state will bring back these prisoners, and intends to have completed these transfers by 2016. This will add another 9,500 convicts to the state's prison system. Already 600 Arizona-housed inmates are scheduled to return "immediately."
Sylvia Cochran is a Los Angeles area resident with a firm finger on the pulse of California politics. Talk radio junkie, community volunteer and politically independent, she scrutinizes the good and the bad from both sides of the political aisle.