How California could free roughly a third of its prison inmates safely in a few years is hotly debated, says the Associated Press. The state’s 33 prisons now hold 158,000 inmates. A federal judicial panel said overcrowding is so severe it unconstitutionally compromises medical care of inmates, and releasing up to 57,000 prisoners is the only solution.
The judges said that California “has a number of options, including reform of the earned credit and parole systems, that would serve to reduce the population  without adversely affecting public safety.” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger already has asked lawmakers to take a number of steps, including Ending parole for former inmates not convicted of a violent or sex-related crime, raising the monetary limit for property crimes to be considered felonies, and giving inmates release credits for completing educational or vocational programs. Even if all Schwarzenegger’s proposals were adopted, they still would fall short of the judges’ target. Freeing or diverting inmates as the judges suggest is “a dangerous game of Russian roulette,” said Stanislaus County Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers, who heads the statewide chief probation officers association.