SACRAMENTO — When lawmakers fixed California’s deficit-plagued budget last month, they left one aspect of the spending plan unfinished.
The revised budget calls for cutting $1.2 billion from the state corrections department but does not specify how to do it. The solutions, which include releasing some prisoners before they serve their full terms, are such potential lightning rods that lawmakers agreed to deal with them later.
That time arrives this week when lawmakers return from their summer recess.
Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is joining majority Democrats to propose reducing the state inmate population by 27,000 within the first year. They would do that primarily by diverting thousands of convicts to local jails, placing them under house arrest or reducing some crimes to misdemeanors that would allow criminals to escape prison time.
The debate over how to make the cuts in the prison system’s budget comes on the heels of a riot that injured 175 inmates and left portions of the California Institution for Men in Chino uninhabitable.
Republican lawmakers are against an early release program, saying it would flood the streets with felons. They forced a delay on the details of the prison cuts until after lawmakers’ three-week summer vacation.
Majority Democrats could approve the plan on a simple majority vote, meaning they would not need Republican support. But some Democrats also have concerns about releasing inmates before they have served their full sentences, so any solution might have to be bipartisan.
“They are hellbent on putting some thoroughly dangerous individuals out on the street,” said Republican Assemblyman Jim Nielsen of Yuba City, a former state parole board chief. “I believe we can do it without doing mass releases. And that’s what they’ve been talking about — mass releases of these individuals into our communities.”
Schwarzenegger said his approach to cutting the $10.5 billion Corrections and Rehabilitation Department’s budget would avoid freeing inmates who have been convicted of violent crimes or sex offenses.
Over two years, the governor’s plan would trim the inmate population by 37,000 inmates — from 168,000 to about 131,000 — and eliminate 5,000 corrections jobs.
The administration would use home, hospital or nursing home confinement for ill or infirm inmates, some of those over age 60 or any inmate with less than 12 months left to serve. Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate said such a plan does not constitute an early release because the inmates’ locations would be monitored electronically.
“They’ll still be within the jurisdiction of the department,” Cate said. “They just won’t be taking up a brick-and-mortar bed.”
via State leaders near face-off over prison funding cuts.