Due to a severe financial crisis, the California government is struggling to even provide for the basic needs of the prisoners.
Currently more than 10% of the state budget goes to its penal system, which amounts to about $8 billion. This is much more that what the state spends on higher education. In spite of this, many prisoners have been sleeping in a gym. A jail near Los Angeles houses double the number of prisoners it was created to hold. To deal with the situation, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has initiated serious plans to reduce the burden of prisoners on the jails so that the state can improve its financial situation.
Currently there are 167,000 prisoners in California. The plan intends to reduce the number of prisoners by 6,500 in one year. The idea is to put less dangerous prisoners in one category and then separate those who need jail supervision and those who do not. The current California law states that every prisoner will be put under probation on release.
According to the plan, low level offenders may be released without the supervision of a parole officer. Convicts who finished certain education programs or whose sentence is being reduced significantly might also be released. The proposal has already become a law but will require proper planning and execution to become a success.
Many people find these new reforms very interesting. Prominent personalities like Mr. Schwarzenegger’s corrections secretary, Matthew Cate, have supported the law as being necessary and something that should have been in place long back so that the state can deal with its budget crisis.
However, many states are hesitating in taking such steps due to concerns of public safety. Those worries exist in California too but the burden on the state’s finances is so huge that it is being forced to take these steps. The state administration has also debated other ways of reducing costs like turning over prisons to private contractors but no action has been announced on those lines yet.
The release of prisoners has already led to a few problems as some of them were found to be committing crimes again. Victims and law enforcing agencies are arguing against the law. A state oversight board has also stated that this move may increase recidivism, where released prisoners are rearrested for crimes, thus making their release in the first place futile.