The administration of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed to a settlement yesterday that will keep thousands of nonviolent parole violators out of prison. The Los Angeles Times says the move is expected to save the state money by reducing the population behind bars. It also prompted concern of victims’ advocates.
The settlement resolves a 9-year-old class-action lawsuit brought by ex-convicts who charged that California’s system for handling parole violators was unconstitutional. Under the agreement, thousands of parolees who now go directly to jail or prison to await a hearing on alleged parole violations may be diverted to a residential drug treatment center, home detention, or electronic monitoring, among other options.
That new system would would apply only to parolees without records of serious felonies and whose parole violations are “administrative,” such as a positive drug test or failure to meet with a parole agent.
Officials predicted that by 2006, the number of parole violators returned to prison every year in California – now about 100,000 – would be cut by nearly a third, saving the state millions and perhaps leading to the closure of a prison. “Some people will view this as soft on crime, but that’s not the case,” said Michael Brady, deputy secretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency. “Instead, we are taking people whose underlying problem is substance abuse and making sure they get help and get the tools they need to become law-abiding citizens.”
A spokeswoman for one victims group worried that the new approach might jeopardize public safety. “Let’s see what happens to the crime rate,” said Maggie Elvey of Crime Victims United. “If they can guarantee us that these violators won’t re-offend and hurt someone while they’re out, then fine. But they can’t.”