Judges tentatively order inmate release

February 10, 2009 12:07:05 AM PST
Monday, a federal panel of judges ordered the release of thousands of California inmates to relieve overcrowding in the state's prison system.

"Obviously the Governor and I strongly disagree with the panel's tentative ruling," Matthew Cate, Secretary of the Department of Corrections, said.

With their ruling, three federal judges ordered the release of between 37,000 and 58,000 state inmates over a two to three year period.

"That's the equivalent of seven to ten California prisons," Cate said. "We believe it poses a significant threat to public safety."

The judges say the poor medical and mental health treatment in prisons is unconstitutional. At nearly 200 percent capacity, they believe reducing the population can be done safely.

"Even though it seems counter intuitive, the public will be actually safer if the state invests in the programs than they are now, where the system is criminogenic and the parole system actually breeds crime," attorney Don Spector said. Spector is the attorney that won the case.

Dorsey Nunn, a prison inmate advocate, says the poor treatment has been going on since his inmate days in the 1970's.

"The reality of it is that, as a society, we have decided to allow some people to die in order to meet our needs for retribution," Nunn said.

Those released will likely be the elderly and non-violent offenders.

"Whether it's a victim of a heinous crime like ours, the murder of our daughter, or something deemed to be a lesser crime, there is a victim," Crime victim advocate Ilia Smith said.

Smith thinks the state should not compromise its justice system because of overcrowding.

"I think there's got to be another way to solve this which doesn't insult victims," Smith said.

Smith believes we should pay for better care, but opponents say the decision to release prisoners could lead to more rehabilitation. If it becomes final, Attorney General Jerry Brown says he will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.