Federal judges order California to release inmates

California prison populationRecently, a panel of three federal judges ruled that California must release 9,600 inmates by the end of 2013. The three-judge court stated that California needs to expand the use of good-time credits in order to trim prison sentences for nonviolent offenders.

The ruling coincides with AB 109 prison realignment passed in 2009, which called for the California prison population to be cut from approximately 150,000 inmates to 137.5 percent of design capacity within two years. The judges want the population reduced from the current level of 119,000 to 110,000 to comply with AB 109 and to promote the mental and physical health of the inmates. The state’s prison system is designed to house 80,000 inmates.

Governor Jerry Brown has been resistant to the ruling, asserting the state has sufficiently reduced the prison population. The judges rejected Brown’s appeal and told him to begin releasing inmates immediately.

Attorney Michael Bien notes that the state has done a good job so far of reducing the prison population by turning nonviolent, non-serious offenders over to counties. Additionally, he says the state has compiled a list of inmates who can safely be released using enhanced good-time credits. The state could use this list to cut sentences for nonviolent, non-serious offenders and place them under community supervision, where they could enroll in treatment programs. BI Incorporated and its parent, GEO Community Services, have been selected by many of the state’s counties to implement day reporting programs, electronic monitoring programs and other alternatives to detention. The day reporting programs aim to change criminal thinking, reducing the likelihood offenders will commit crimes in the future. This helps to promote public safety and reduce recidivism rates, which in turn helps keep prison population counts down. The EM programs help supervising officers to manage offenders released to community supervision by helping to maintain sobriety, curfews and other conditions of release.