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article imageCalifornia bill would allow early release for 27,000 prisoners

By Patrick McMahon     Aug 22, 2009 in Crime
In an effort to help the state cope with a massive budget deficit and to comply with a federal ruling, California lawmakers are currently debating a piece of legislation that would allow some 27,000 convicted criminals to get an early release from prison.
On Thursday, the California State Senate passed the legislation by a margin of 21-19. A majority of state senators were opposed until they were reassured that the most violent inmates would not be allowed out through this bill. All 15 Senate Republicans opposed the measure, citing a potential threat to the general public's safety. The California State Assembly is expected to begin the debate on the legislation on Monday, where it is expected to pass.
The state is under a federal court order to reduce the prison population by at least 40,000 by the middle of September due to prison overcrowding that the court said violated the constitutional rights of the prisoners. In addition to that, the state is expected to save over $500 million immediately by releasing the prisoners and $1.2 billion in the long run, money that is needed because of the financial crisis in California. Under the proposed legislation, a panel comprised of 16 members, would create new sentencing guidelines by 2012, to take effect in 2013.
"Of course, we want to keep violent criminals off our streets and out of our communities, and this reform package is a necessary step to do that because it concentrates our incarceration efforts on the violent criminals and ensures that nonviolent offenders have more contact with parole officers," Darrell Steinberg, Senate President Pro Tempore (D-Sacramento) said. However, the Republicans in the state legislature are adamantly opposed to the move. "Among the inmates who could be eligible for early release under the Democrat plan include felons convicted of human trafficking, stalking, identity theft, violent child abuse and threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction," said the Republican Caucus.
It is unclear whether or not Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would sign the bill or veto it. Public opinion remains divided on the issue throughout the state, although it is widely expected to pass the state assembly early next week and be delivered to the governor's desk for his signature. Regardless of public opinion, California Senate Minority Leader Dennis Hollingsworth (R-Murrieta) is not convinced, "unfortunately, this proposal exploits a fiscal crisis in order to advance a dangerous liberal agenda that seeks to undo successful anti-crime laws."
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