Who Let the Prisoners Out?

California prisons are starting a new process that will reduce the state's inmate population.

By Robert Kovacik and Lorel Kane
|  Monday, Jan 25, 2010  |  Updated 4:12 PM PDT
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Who Let the Prisoners Out?

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More cells are about to be empty.

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Over the next year, thousands of so-called low-risk felons can earn early release credits and then be sent home without parole supervision.

It's a move California is undertaking to save money and reduce prison overcrowding.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says the controversial law will help relieve the state's budget crisis, but some fear it will only lead to a crisis of criminal justice now that upwards of 40,000 prisoners will be released in the next few years, without monitoring.

Victims' rights advocates, as well as members of law enforcement, are calling the early release program a threat to public safety.

"In the best of times, seven out of 10 felons coming out of the state penal system re-offend within three years. That's a tremendous figure," said Paul Weber, President of the L.A.P.D. Police Protective League, the union representing the rank and file of the Los Angeles Police Department. 

It's tough enough getting a job during this recessionary time with credentials, says Weber.

"What happens when one of these individuals whose only resume is he's a graduate of San Quentin, these individuals are going to go back to what they know best which is being a criminal," Weber said.

Authorities say the prisoners slated for release will be low-risk felons who earned the right to be released after educational and rehabilitation programs.

The new law will end California's practice of making sure every released convict meets with a parole officer. Once the prisoners' sentences are commuted, they are on their own making the adjustment back into society.

The Secretary of California's Department of Corrections hopes easing the work loads for parole officers from 70 to 48 parolees will allow them to focus more closely on monitoring violent felons and sex offenders after they are released.

An example of one who slipped under the radar was paroled sex-offender Phillip Garrido, who kept his kidnapping victim Jaycee Dugard in his backyard for 18 years. Parole agents were faulted for not keeping a more watchful eye on Garrido.

The state estimates it will save half a billion dollars through the early release program. This first year, 6,500 prisoners are set to be released. Paul Weber says he thinks the majority of them will end up in the city of Los Angeles.

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