Calfiornia Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will consider releasing inmates before they complete their sentences to alleviate prison overcrowding, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. That marks a significant shift by the governor as he faces mounting pressure from federal judges to address the problem of jam-packed prisons. Schwarzenegger said he was open to discussing early release for some inmates without violent histories as a way to create space in prisons and to head off potential federal court intervention.
Schwarzenegger, who has proposed spending nearly $11 billion to add prison space, faces a summer deadline from three federal judges who are considering imposing a population limit on the system. U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson has asked the state to tell him within 90 days how it would reduce the inmate population by next year. The question suggests that the judge will not accept proposals to build prisons as an answer to overcrowding. “The judge seems to be saying it’s not possible for the state to build its way out of the problem,” said Steve Fama, an attorney for the Prison Law Office, which seeks the population limit on behalf of inmates with medical problems, mental health problems, and disabilities.