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Calif. Prison Early-Release Program Stirs Controversy

Publication Date: 
February 10, 2010
89.3 KPCC Sothern California Public Radio
Richard Gonzales

Professor Joan Petersilia, an expert on prison reform and prisoner reintegration, is quoted on Calfornia's prison early-release program. Richard Gonzales of National Public Radio reports:

A California law requiring the state to use early release to thin its prison population is causing controversy and confusion. One released prisoner was arrested for attempted rape, and many county sheriffs let people go free — even though the law doesn't affect them.

A new state law that is designed to reduce California's exploding prison population is under fire for allowing the early release of some low-risk offenders. Hundreds of inmates from county jails have been set free in the past two weeks, but it's not at all clear they are eligible for release under the law signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in late January.


Stanford law professor Joan Petersilia says the new law is good public policy.

"You have to remember that this was passed by a very conservative Legislature and a tough-on-crime governor, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger," Petersilia said. "And it was recommended by the three previous governors."


Within a year, California will reduce its prison population by about 6,500 inmates. But Petersilia says only non-violent offenders who meet criteria for good behavior will be eligible. State officials hope a go-slow approach will help avoid controversy like the one seen this week.