December 21, 2007

California: Throw off your chains, ye wretched prisoners?

Two big stories out of California today:

In what would probably be the largest mass release in U.S. history, prison doors could swing open early for more than 22,000 prisoners. The governor's plan to release nonviolent offenders with less than 20 months to go on their sentences would ease prison overcrowding and save the state almost $800 million over the next couple of years with little risk to the public. California has the largest prison population in the nation, with 172,000 prisoners. The guards' union, a major influence in this prison-heavy state, will undoubtedly try to halt the move, which would cost more than 4,000 prison jobs. The full story is here.

In another development, officials admit they are removing GPS tracking devices from sex offenders who have completed parole, in violation of a state law that requires lifetime monitoring. That's because Jessica's Law, enacted by voters in 2006, doesn't specify who is responsible for the monitoring or who will pay the exorbitant costs. Nor does it penalize ex-offenders for removing the GPS devices.

Both state and local officials say they don't have the funds to monitor the offenders. "We don't know what it's going to cost, and the conservative estimates are hundreds of millions of dollars" as more offenders complete parole, said Nancy O'Malley, chief assistant district attorney in Alameda County.

The state's Sex Offender Management Board is pondering a solution. The full story is here.

Photo credit: Puff's Daddy's (Creative Commons license).