The administration of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will not release inmates early to save money, says Roderick Q. Hickman, secretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency. Speaking about inmates with non-violent records, Hickman said, “There is no intent to eliminate parole for that population or do early releases for that population. “I won’t sacrifice community safety” to trim the $5.3 billion prison system budget, the Los Angeles Times reports. Hickman vowed to save money by reforming the state’s beleaguered parole system by dramatically reducing the number of ex-convicts sent back to prison on parole violations.
By expanding programs to prepare inmates better for release and by supporting them with drug treatment and other help, fewer will return to prison and “we will get a fiscal payoff,” Hickman said. He appeared before a special state Senate committee on corrections that met to examine California’s parole system. It has been criticized by judges, legislators and by a government watchdog agency that dubbed it a “billion-dollar failure” because two out of three parolees wind up back behind bars.
Hickman, who began his career as a prison guard, said, “we can do better.” State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), chairwoman of the committee a strong critic of the penal system, said she was encouraged by Hickman’s remarks and hoped he would bring a new emphasis on rehabilitation to the 32 state prisons.
Hickman said it costs $28,000 a year to house an inmate. Democrats have proposed to release some lesser offenders early, but those ideas have never won much support. With the scale of state budget problems, the Schwarzenegger administration has said that every proposal capable of saving money is on the table.
Officials said a new approach to parole, along with other policy changes, would reduce the prison population by as many as 15,000 inmates – nearly 10% – by June 2005. That could save about $285 million annually and allow the closure of at least one prison.