Commentary: Supreme Court prison ruling shouldn't undercut public safety

No longer can California avoid the inevitable task of reducing the state's prison population.

Serious constitutional violations "have persisted for years" in California's overcrowded prison system, wrote U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in a 5-4 ruling Monday.

The high court upheld the 2009 decision of the federal three-judge panel giving California two years to comply with a population limit of 110,000 inmates in its 33 prisons. Today, prisons that were built originally to house 84,000 inmates pack in 143,400 inmates.

Can the state get to 110,000 without compromising public safety and without mass prison releases? It can.

Matthew Cate, secretary of Corrections and Rehabilitation, believes the state can get to 110,000 by implementing Gov. Jerry Brown's "realignment" plan, which already has been signed into law (Assembly Bill 109) and is awaiting budget approval by legislators.

The state stands ready with solutions that have been tested in other states. Most important, they do not require a mass early release of prisoners onto California streets, as the scaremongers falsely claim.

Since January, California has expanded "good-time credits" to allow 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. The state expects this could reduce prison population by about 6,500 prisoners over time.

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