California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger estimates $182 million in savings if the state were to release for deportation about 8,000 of its 19,000 identified undocumented prisoners. The projection appears overly optimistic, says the Sacramento Bee. Finance and legislative officials say that only about 1,400 prisoners fit the profile of an inmate whose sentence can be commuted by the governor. Springing 1,400 inmates saves only about $32 million. That’s out of the $10 billion the state spends to house a total inmate population of about 168,000.
To be eligible for a commutation by the governor, an inmate must have just one felony conviction, for a crime that is not violent or sexual, and is not on a list of other disqualifying crimes. Another 4,000 undocumented prisoners convicted of more than one nonviolent, nonsexual felony also could be eligible if the California Supreme Court agrees. To get to 8,000 immigrant inmate releases, legislators would have to sign off on redefining some felonies as misdemeanors – a potentially steep political hurdle. Some lawmakers question the wisdom of releasing immigrants early for deportation, given that some ultimately would return to California.