California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger welcomes the threat of a federal judge’s imposing a prison population cap because the strong prospect of court-ordered inmate releases might be the only way to get action by an ideologically polarized legislature, reports the Sacramento Bee. Schwarzenegger is dedicating a week to selling a $10.9 billion prison construction and sentencing overhaul to the legislature and the public. Yesterday, he toured a prison; Monday, he held a tough-on-crime news conference with Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.
Republican legislators have had a chilly reaction to the softer side of Schwarzenegger’s prison plan. It includes a proposal that would qualify lower-level offenders for direct discharge from parole upon their release from prison. The governor wants to create a sentencing commission that Republicans think would be the state’s first step toward letting criminals out of prison before their terms are up. The governor said that his corrections fix should hold plenty of appeal for Republicans, mainly billions of dollars to expand prison, jail, and juvenile detention space that would accommodate tens of thousands of offenders of all ages. U.S. District Judges Lawrence Karlton in Sacramento and Thelton Henderson in San Francisco have scheduled June hearings as first steps toward imposing inmate population caps. Both judges have suggested they are ready to act in the absence of action by the state to do something about its hugely overcrowded prisons. About 172,000 inmates in 33 prisons and other facilities are living in space designed for half that many.