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San Bernardino Precinct Reporter: CA Forced to Release Some Inmates
June 02, 2011
By Dianne Anderson
Not to get it confused, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation mix-up at the top of the year with the accidental release of 450 violent offenders is not the same as the recent court ruling that allows the release of 33,000 nonviolent offenders from the state’s overcrowded prison system.
But just so the same accident doesn't happen again, a recent audit highlights several areas where CDCR should fix their automated system so thousands more dangerous felons aren’t released on unsupervised parole.
California is now under the U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 ruling to relieve its bulging prison system, but officials say that prisoners won’t receive a get-out-of-jail free pass, such as the recent mishap.
The high court has ordered the prison system, now at 200 percent of capacity, to bring its population down by 33,000 inmates within the next two years, which includes curbing the rate that prisoners return to jail.
Right now, under current law, nonviolent or non-serious or non-sex-offenders can be placed on “non-revocable,” basically unsupervised, parole.
Jeff Gozzo, legislative staffer at the office of Senator Ted Lieu, said part of the reason why the state just can’t just reel in the 450 prisoners that CDCR accidentally released is because the inmate release occurred between January and July of 2010. The new non-revocable parole status only lasts 12 months.
“If they were inappropriately released in February, they’d be completely off parole status by now,” he said. “They’d be trying to integrate back into society as a felon.”
At the request of Sen. Lieu last year, the office of the Inspector General released its recent Special Report of CDCR’s implementation of the Non-Revocable Parole Program. The audit found that the number of parolees mistakenly placed on non-revocable parole could run as high 2,075 violent felons set free during the seven-month time span.
Under the law, those released prisoners on unsupervised parole must again get caught violating parole or committing another crime, then retried at court versus directly sending them back to prison.
Gozzo said the Sen. Lieu system wants the state’s automated system fixed. He said CDCR lacks the data to provide an accurate risk assessment for whether inmates should be supervised or not.
He said the same situation could happen again.
“When they start pumping folks out of jails early as an early release program and place them on to non-revocable parole, that [we are ensured] we’re not putting people out there at risk with a high likelihood to commit violence again,” he said.
Each year, about half of the 100,000 prisoners who are routinely released after finishing their sentences, commit more crime and recycle back to jail.
At the other side of the problem, the 33,000 offenders who will be released under the recent court ruling will be nonviolent offenders, some locked up for low level drug sentencing laws.
Barbara Ellis, founder of the nonprofit Families of Incarcerated Loved Ones, said the overcrowded prison system has also resulted in a high level of disease transmission in and out of prison, and is also costing taxpayers countless millions when inmates get out.
"Overcrowding leads to a lot of health issues. Large percentages [of inmates] are dying or needing major services,” she said. “One guy went in healthy, when he came out he had MRSA and there are all kinds of diseases from never being taken to the doctor.”
MRSA is a highly contagious super bacteria resistant to antibiotics and drugs to cure it.
Aside from human rights violations, which is also against the law, she said taxpayers are footing the bill on tens of billions annually to house inmates who are not receiving medical care, and they will pay much more when those prisoners get out.
“They’re [prisoners ] filing lawsuits against the state for inhumane treatment, and that can’t be violated, either,” she said. “The taxpayers often forget they are the ones paying for people in prison when these types of lawsuits are settled.”