A new law to thin California’s packed prisons has drawn political scrutiny and legal challenges over Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's goal to save $500 million by releasing up to 6,500 inmates before they finish their original sentences this year, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. The legislation will reward some felons with reduced terms if they attend vocational classes or earn a high school equivalency diploma. The state’s leading advocacy groups for victims sued yesterday in San Diego Superior Court to challenge the law.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation insists that it's following the law by continuing a program that encourages low-risk inmates to behave, learn a skill and better transition to life on the outside. Crime Victims United and their allies in the legislature say the prison agency's practice violates a tenet of Proposition 9, approved by voters in 2008, which ordered a crackdown on early releases and established a series of rights for victims. “This amendment incorporated into the constitution the public's right to prevent the early release of felons, adequate notice of the release to victims of those felons and funding of prisons adequately to protect the public,” the lawsuit states. Gordon Hinkle, a prison system spokesman, said the legislation has been incorrectly called an early-release program. “No serious or violent felons, no sex offenders and no gang members would be eligible for the new parole terms created by the law,” he said.