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Why court’s Calif. inmate release mandate is dangerous!

10,000 prisoners may be on the street by the end of this calendar year that would not otherwise have been released from custody

With the exception of a new prison hospital of 1,722 beds about to open very soon, the formerly great state of California has not opened a new prison in many, many years. They have retasked one women’s prison to house men and have done some other shuffling, including housing several thousand inmates in out-of-state contract beds. They have brought virtually no new beds on line. That, along with harsher sentencing laws and other issues, has brought about a significant increase in the number of persons in custody over a long period of time.

In 2009 the federal court ruled that the health care in California state prisons was so bad that it was unconstitutional. Among other remedies along the line the court has ordered the state to greatly reduce the number of convicted felons in actual custody.

Depending on who you ask, the state has either been moving responsibly towards the goal of 137.5% of design capacity that the court has set, or has been slow-dragging the process. It doesn’t really matter because on June 20 a three-judge panel of the federal court ordered the state to move ”immediately” to reduce the prison system population to comply with the original order. If it happens that will mean about 10,000 prisoners will be on the street by the end of this calendar year that would not otherwise have been released from custody.

Governor Brown has announced that the state will seek an immediate stay of the court order. An appeal against the population cap order in general is already pending with SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States).

As one might expect the lawyer for the inmate rights groups, Michael Bean, is supportive of the order and dismisses public safety concerns. The Sacramento Bee quotes Bien as saying, “The public need not be concerned. Further release of inmates can be done safely and appropriately. The administration knows how to identify prisoners that can safely be released.” Bien ignores the fact that these inmates have already been released or were sentenced under realignment, which places them in local custody rather than state custody.

In August of 2009 the court ordered the state to reduce its population to 137.5% of design capacity in two years.

In theory the state prison design capacity is about 80,000. This allows for one man per cell. Virtually all cell space is now two per cell, and there are many dorms within the system that have been converted to housing from other purposes, such as day rooms and gymnasiums.

The Brown administration has been adamant of late that the system now provides adequate and appropriate health care and mental health services for inmates and has requested that the federal court release their receivership of those activities. Thus far the court has declined to do so, and is in fact looking at taking over some level of authority over state prison inmates housed in state mental hospitals.

There are currently about 119,000 prisoners in actual custody in California. The federal court wants this brought down to 110,000. I strongly suspect that they will get what they want. Federal courts usually do. This will no doubt be detrimental to the residents of California. That, however, is clearly not the concern of the court. They are focused on the constitutional rights of the prisoners, not those of honest, law-abiding citizens.

Bob Walsh worked for 24 years with the California Department of Corrections at Deuel Vocational Institution located near Tracy, California. He retired in early 2005. Since then he has been taking classes, exercising his obsolete camera equipment, rusticating and writing for the PacoVilla web site which focuses on issues within what is now called the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCr) and within the union representing CDCr employees, the California Correctional Peace Officer’s Association (CCPOA).