Sheriffs across California are supporting a bill (SB 1462) that would allow inmates who are dying or physically incapacitated and who are not considered a threat to the public to leave jail before completing their sentences, the Bay Citizen reports.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the California State Sheriffs' Association support the bill.
Last month, the Senate approved the bill. The measure is now before the Assembly (Mieszkowski, Bay Citizen, 6/11).
About six years ago, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson appointed J. Clark Kelso to oversee the state's prison health care system after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of malpractice or neglect.
In May 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its inmate population to help improve health care.
California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation developed a plan for reorganizing the state's prisons in part by shifting low-level offenders to county jails (California Healthline, 5/17).
As a result of the realignment, counties now are faced with the task of covering the higher health costs associated with more inmates who have illnesses and disabilities.
Details of Legislation
The bill, by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), would grant inmates who have fewer than six months to live compassionate release. It is unclear how many inmates would be released if the bill becomes law.
According to the legislation, inmates with permanent medical conditions that require 24-hour care for help with daily living activities such as feeding or bathing could receive medical probation in lieu of jail time.
In addition, the bill would allow low-income inmates on medical probation to enroll in Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program. The provision would require that the county pay only a portion of the inmates' Medi-Cal costs not covered by the federal government.
Support for Legislation
Advocates for prisoners argue that counties should not pay to hold an inmate who no longer is a threat to the public, according to California Watch.
Steven Fama -- a lawyer with the Prison Law Office -- said, "The purposes of incarceration aren't well served when a person who can't care for her or himself and poses no danger to others is kept behind bars, especially when the cost to the state or the county can be extraordinary."
Opposition to Legislation
Critics of the bill have said it gives some inmates a reprieve that they do not deserve.
Cory Salzillo -- director of legislation for the California District Attorneys Association -- said sheriffs understandably are seeking ways to manage their inmate populations. However, he said the bill is "unnecessary, and it provides another method for persons who have been sentenced to a criminal term to be released" (Bay Citizen, 6/11).