California Poised To Release Prison Inmates Early To Close Budget Deficit

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Californians are brazing themselves for a tough future in the state. Aside from another round of cuts to education funding and social services, something else looms in the horizon — the release of thousands of prison inmates from state jails.

Over 20,000 offenders currently behind bars would be released from California jails if the legislature and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger approve the measure, which would cut $1.2 billion to California’s Department of Corrections.

News from Sacramento that the state intends to release mostly non-violent criminals from state prisons in order to save some money has created some uproar, but in truth, Californians may not have a choice. With a growing budget deficit of $26.5 billion dollars, the argument among legislators is that cuts need to come from somewhere.

“Early Release” would allow the state to place prisoners under house arrest instead of using the prison system. Elderly and sick prisoners would be allowed to receive services elsewhere. The measure makes enough sense to those proposing it, but local authorities have been wishy-washy throughout the process.

Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian, leads the California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA), a Sacramento-based group made up of representatives from different local and municipal law enforcement agencies across the state. On Monday, Melekian said that “Early Release” wasn’t worth saving the state some dollars, even under a touch fiscal nightmare. He also complained that there was no funding for job training or rehabilitation programs to help those prisoners who would be released.

“Quite frankly, I don’t think the public is fully aware of just how close this is to becoming reality,” Melekian told the Sacramento Bee.

But by Wednesday, CPCA had changed its position, giving into the legislature and the Governor and stopping their campaign to oppose the “Early Release” program. The CPCA’s blessing has now given more confidence to the government to move ahead.

According to the Los Angeles Times, this is the latest picture:

“Everything’s on track,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said as he and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) emerged from a meeting with the governor. Blakeslee said his caucus was now ready to “move forward,” and would offer its own plan “to achieve the necessary savings without jeopardizing public safety.”

As legislators prepare today to vote to close the budget deficit, it’s unclear if they will also vote to make “Early Release” a reality. News media seems to be getting mixed information, some reporting that the cuts to the department of correction will come today, while others say that they will come next month. Californians meanwhile will have to wait and see and maybe, upgrade to new, better locks.

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