Any ruling by a 3-judge panel in California to release thousands of prisoners to eliminate unconstitutional overcrowding will be appealed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and others to the U.S. Supreme Court, says the Los Angeles Times. Inmates’ attorneys seek an order to remove 52,000 inmates over two years from a $10-billion-a-year state system that incarcerates more than 170,000 people in 33 state prisons and other sites.
Some experts believe the state could dramatically reduce overcrowding without a public safety risk if it stopped a revolving door of tens of thousands of offenders who are repeatedly sent from their communities to prison for a few months at a time on parole violations and low-level crimes. “We catch people and we release them,” Jeanne Woodford, a former corrections chief under Schwarzenegger and an ex-warden at San Quentin State Prison, told the judges. “We don’t do anything for them while they’re incarcerated, and we’re really just disrupting their lives over and over again, and it really doesn’t add to public safety.” Woodford and others testifying for the inmates suggest keeping low-level offenders in less expensive alternatives such as county jail or rehabilitation programs. Criminologist James Austin testified that other states have reduced sentences and prison population and seen drops in crime as well. In Indiana, if you get your high-school degree, you get 12 months off,” he said. “If you get a college degree, you get two years off. The whole idea here is to provide that carrot for prisoners.  You lower the risk, you lower the length of stay, you lower the cost for that system.”