As reported on the Chron, on Monday the Federal judicial panel at the District Court heard closing arguments regarding prison overcrowding. A few snippets:
Inmates' attorneys argued Tuesday that releasing tens of thousands of prisoners is the answer.
"The entire system is collapsing because of the overcrowding," Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office, told the three-judge panel in U.S. District Court.
If the panel agrees, it could order the population cut by one-third in California's 33 adult prisons. That would lead to the early release of some 52,000 inmates.
Attorneys representing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, about 80 local law enforcement officials and 44 Republican lawmakers agreed that California's prisons are dangerously overcrowded, despite steps taken in recent years to relieve the problem.
But they also argued that freeing tens of thousands of inmates or diverting them to county programs would overwhelm local police, jails and rehabilitation programs. Crime would go up, and many parolees would go without supervision, they said.
The judges have indicated they support the premise that the prisons' problems stem from overcrowding. U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton acknowledged the "very profound effect" on counties if an early release was ordered, but also said 52,000 inmates might not be enough. He suggested that nearly half of the current 158,000 inmates may need to be freed.
"The state of the evidence is you can't solve the problem without solving the overcrowding," Karlton said Tuesday.
The governor's position is rather interesting. As we know, the most recent version of the budget included releases of non-violent prisoners, as well as cutting parole for the same population. The governor actually supported the release of 15,000 prisoners. It would therefore appear to be the case that the argument is no longer about whether to release prisoners, but how many, and how the choice is to be made.
Don Specter, and Judge Karlton, will be among our speakers at the upcoming California Correctional Crisis Conference.