California Officials Say Just 1,205 Inmates Eligible for Early Release

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In a court filing on Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) administration said it has identified only 1,205 state inmates who could safely be released early from prison in an effort to comply with a federal court order to release about 9,600 prisoners, AP/U-T San Diego reports (Thompson, AP/U-T San Diego, 7/19).

Background

In 2006, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that federal oversight of the prison system was needed after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of medical malpractice or neglect.

In April, a panel of federal judges rejected Brown's request to end a court-mandated prison population cap. The judges ruled that the cap is necessary to address substandard conditions that have resulted in unconstitutionally poor inmate care.

On May 2, Brown filed a proposal to comply with the population cap.

In June, three federal judges rejected the plan, ordering Brown to release about 9,600 inmates -- or 8% of the inmate population -- by 2014.

The judges said that the state can use any method under its original plan to reduce the inmate population, but they suggested expanding the use of good behavior credits to expedite prisoner releases.

If the state does not comply with the order by the end of the year, officials will have to release inmates based on a list of "low-risk" offenders, according to the judges (California Healthline, 7/11).

Earlier this month, Brown filed a request with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy for a stay of the order (California Healthline, 7/16).

Details of Latest Court Filing

On Thursday, the state said it could find only 1,205 inmates who:

  • Are at low risk of committing new crimes;
  • Have not been involved in prison gangs;
  • Have not committed felonies while imprisoned within the past decade; and
  • Have less than a year left in their sentence.

Officials said they now will evaluate higher-risk inmates in an attempt to find more inmates who could be eligible for early release.

If the list was not limited to those with less than one year left to serve, the number of those eligible for early release would rise to 1,777, according to AP/U-T San Diego.

Reaction

State Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson Jeffrey Callison in an email said that releasing more inmates "would unnecessarily jeopardize public safety" and that reducing the prison population further is "not needed given the quality medical and mental health care that inmates already receive."

However, Don Specter -- director of the Prison Law Office, which is representing inmates in the case -- said "[n]o one is complaining" about the 3,000 prisoners released on parole each month, so releasing an additional 9,000  prisoners over six months will not "cause any significant difference at all" (AP/U-T San Diego, 7/19).


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