The California legislature seems incapable of doing the right thing on prison reform, editorializes the Los Angeles Times. A package designed to trim the budget and inmate population was narrowly approved in the state Senate last week but stalled in the other house, the Assembly. Among other things, it would create a sentencing commission, which the Times says “could streamline and improve California’s byzantine sentencing laws.” Republicans oppose the package because their stance is “molded by talk radio hosts who enhance their ratings with fear-inducing rants about newly released prisoners flooding the streets of California,” says the newspaper.
Now it is Democrats, notably a handful who face tight reelection contests or plan to run for higher office, who are standing in the way of sensible reform. California’s corrections system is in crisis because the state is unique nationwide in its failure to focus scarce law enforcement resources on the most dangerous criminals, the Times says. The Assembly is expected to take up the bill Monday after heavily amending it to weaken the package, lower the inmate population reductions to 17,000 and reduce the savings by $200 million. This would fall far short of a federal court order to cut the prison count by 40,000 and would all but assure mandated early release of prisoners down the road. Moreover, California may soon spend more on corrections than on higher education.