[JURIST] California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger [official website] is considering a mass release of more than 20,000 nonviolent prisoners in hopes of staving off a projected $10 billion to $14 billion budget deficit over the next two fiscal years, the Sacramento Bee reported Friday. Only prisoners with less than 20 months remaining in their sentence would be eligible for early release; sex offenders would not be eligible. The reported proposal would free 22,159 inmates and save the state $256 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1. AP has more. The Sacramento Bee has local coverage.
In the past, Schwarzenegger has considered early release [JURIST report] as a way to alleviate the burden on California's overcrowded prison system [JURIST news archive]. In July, two federal district judges separately ordered the formation of a special three-judge panel [JURIST report] to supervise and reduce California's prison population after finding that overcrowding is preventing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) [official website] from adequately providing mental health care. In May, Schwarzenegger signed off on a $7.7 billion program to construct facilities [JURIST report] to provide 53,000 new prison and jail beds over the next five years. The construction program and release plan failed to persuade the federal judges, who were not convinced that the measures would bring compliance with the Eighth Amendment guarantee of constitutionally adequate mental health care for individuals suffering from serious mental illnesses that are incarcerated by the CDCR.