To save money, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to release tens of thousands of prisoners before they’ve served their full sentences. The state legislature isn’t inclined to hand him the cell keys, says Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton. The governor advocates turning felons loose on the street without parole supervision. The legislature is thinking they should be kept on a leash. Schwarzenegger has proposed giving prison guards a 5 percent pay hike. Not now, say legislators — not while he’s freezing benefits for welfare moms and for the impoverished aged, blind and disabled. Not when he’s cutting back on doctor fees for treating the poor and whacking schools.
Skelton reports a “poisonous atmosphere that has evolved among the prison powers at the Capitol.” Corrections is the state’s fourth largest and gobbles up $10 billion annually. Nonpartisan legislative analyst Elizabeth Hill described the relationship between Schwarzenegger and the prison guards union as “completely dysfunctional.” Relations aren’t any better between the union and the legislature. Relations are poor between Schwarzenegger and the legislature, especially Republicans. It’s unlikely that the governor’s proposals to free nonviolent prisoners 20 months early and release them on unsupervised parole will fly. Republicans oppose the ideas, so Democrats aren’t going to stick their necks out and risk being labeled — again — soft on crime.