Governor is furious courts rejected prison plan

October 22, 2009 6:54:46 PM PDT
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif., says federal judges should not have the right to tell California about its overcrowded prisons. He is furious that a federal panel rejected his plan.

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Governor Schwarzenegger slammed back at the federal judges who rejected the administration's inmate reduction plan to decrease the prison population by some 25,000. Their previous order calls for 40,000 plus.

"Our federal judges are out of control. I think that they think they are running the state of California. I think the Legislature is running the state of California and the governor," said Gov. Schwarzenegger.

Another failure to comply is trying the federal judges' patience. California's prisons have been so stuffed to at least twice their capacity for years that the overcrowded conditions were deemed unconstitutional.

The Legislature has been arguing over how to solve it, letting the problem drag on. Michael Vitiello studies prison reform for decades and says politicians are afraid to appear soft on crime.

"It doesn't take much in private in talking to Legislators to get them to admit they would much rather have the federal judges doing it, rather than them to take it on. Not all of them. Why? Because political cover," says Professor Michael Vitiello, JD, from the University of the Pacific-McGeorge School of Law.

The judges ultimatum is to give them a real plan in three weeks or they'll let the inmates' attorneys come up with a plan, which will surely include early release. While low-risk offenders are often at the top of the list when early release is discussed, time served could be considered instead.

"If you're to be released within 12 months, they would say now it's nine months. If you're to be released in two years, it's now a year-and-a-half. They could do that, but then that doesn't take into account any of the actual offenses," says Matt Gray, a public safety advocate.

No matter how early release is determined, there are no guarantees public safety wouldn't be affected.

"I can't promise that no one will commit a crime, but there's always some risk in everything we do," says Vitiello.

The governor vows not to take this lying down. While the state will respond with another plan in three weeks, it's also challenging the judges' authority over state prisons with a lawsuit now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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