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State could put 40K prisoners on the street

Federal panel orders state to reduce the overcrowding in its penal system by releasing inmates

Posted: August 6, 2009 9:48 p.m.
Updated: August 7, 2009 4:30 a.m.
 
If state prisons release more than 40,000 inmates, as ordered by a panel of judges this week, up to 40 percent of them may wind up in Los Angeles County, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman said Thursday.

“I see it creating a lot more work for everybody,” said spokesman Steve Whitmore. “This is of grave concern to us.”

The governor and state attorney general have vowed to appeal the judges’ ruling, which found that overcrowded prisons failed to provide adequate health care for inmates.

The ruling Tuesday would force the state to come up with a plan to reduce the number of inmates at its 33 adult prisons from about 150,000 to about 110,000.

On Thursday, local politicians threw their support behind the governor and attorney general and took aim at the judges.

“It’s a very real danger and a threat to our communities,” said state Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita. “A panel of three unelected judges could release 40,000 prisoners into our community who haven’t done their time.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich cited a federal report showing keeping criminals incarcerated is correlated with lower crime.
“Keeping violent criminals behind bars has clearly spared countless Americans from being assaulted, robbed, raped, and murdered,” Antonovich said in a written statement. “Releasing them back into our communities is a recipe for disaster.”

California’s prisons were designed to house about 80,000 inmates, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, but hold almost double that amount today.

The special panel of judges said California can safely cut its inmate population without releasing inmates early through steps like giving them credit for completing rehabilitation programs and not sending parolees back to prison for technical parole violations.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed those steps and more in asking state lawmakers to reduce the population of the nation’s largest state prison system by 27,000 inmates to save $1.2 billion.

The state is counting on the savings to help close a $26.3 billion deficit in a revised budget Schwarzenegger signed last week. Legislators are to consider the plan when they return from summer vacation in two weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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