Governor Brown is under orders from a federal court to reduce overcrowding in California prisons. He must reduce the overcrowding by some 9,600 inmates by year’s end. Although state officials are scrambling to find places to house them, they expect their efforts to fall short by about 1,000 prisoners. So they are considering early release for as many as 1,000 low-risk offenders who are doing time for non-violent offenses. Up for first consideration are inmates with less than one year remaining on their sentences.
California has had a problem with overcrowded prisons for some time, leading to federal judges ordering California to reduce inmate population or increase facilities. In August of 2009, when federal authorities stepped in, California prisons were at 188% of capacity– almost double what they could reasonably accommodate. In October of 2011, under the so-called “re-alignment” program, California began diverting low-level inmates to county jails. By December of 2011, the overcrowding was reduced by 21%, and over the next year by about another 20%. Still, as of the end of July, California prisons are still at 146% of capacity. The federal order mandates reduction to 137.5% of capacity by the end of 2013.
That leaves California officials scrambling to find ways to reduce the prison population by an additional 9% by year’s end. The state has made deals with the Alameda County jail system, as well as with private jails located in Kern County. But even with all those steps, they still need to get rid of approximately 1,000 inmates. Hence, in all likelihood, they will simply release 1,000 of the lowest-level offenders with the shortest time remaining on their sentences. The state is also considering elderly prisoner releases and release of prisoners who require 24 hour medical care.