Commentary: Bad PR shouldn't kill California prison population reduction plans

The Sacramento BeeFebruary 5, 2010 

Here's a dirty little secret: Most inmates in California state prisons and county jails eventually get out and return to communities.

Here's another dirty little secret: For years, overcrowded county jails have been releasing 9,100 pretrial inmates a month. They've also been releasing 9,300 sentenced inmates per month before they complete their sentences.

Something's got to give.

Before a new law took effect on Jan. 25, California had a system of good-time credits that allowed inmates to shave time off their sentences for good behavior and for participating in certain work, education and drug or alcohol programs. The aim is to encourage good behavior and reward self-improvement efforts, as well as reduce overcrowding in prisons and jails.

Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law that would expand good-time credits, a long-overdue reform. It took effect Jan. 25. Crime victims groups and others, however, already are stoking fears of a massive new crime wave.

Here's a reality check.

No state prisoners have yet been released under the new law, not one. Credit enhancements for state prisoners only began to accrue on Jan. 25. And, for state prisoners, release will take place only after intense review of each prisoner. The state expects 6,500 prisoners will be released early in a trickle over time.

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