After two decades of making criminals pay ever-higher prices for their misdeeds, the high price of housing its inmate population has cash-strapped California looking to dump thousands of future convicts into crowded local jails, reports the Wall Street Journal. Gov. Trying to overcome a $21 billion budget deficit, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to change sentencing guidelines so that offenders who commit such low-level felonies as auto theft or drug possession could be charged with only misdemeanors — allowing them to serve sentences in county jails instead of state prisons.
Local law-enforcement officials warn that an influx of new inmates could force them to release their own prisoners to make room. Changing sentencing guidelines would eventually steer 20,000 inmates away from state prisons to county jails, Mr. Schwarzenegger estimates. California’s county jails now hold about 80,000 inmates, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Schwarzenegger estimates the plan would save the state about $1.1 billion over the next three years. If state lawmakers approve the idea, along with a range of other options being negotiated — such as closing state parks and cutting school budgets — it could be in place as early as July.