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Inmates at the Mule Creek State Prison sit near their bunk beds in a gymnasium that was modified to house prisoners in Ione, California, 2007.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says they're ahead of schedule in reducing the state's prison population. By this time, a federal court said they needed to be at 124,000 inmates to be on their way to making prisons comply with constitutional standards. Instead, CDCR announced Wednesday, they're currently at 121,129, well under the court's requirement.
California's prison population peaked at 170,794 in 2006 and dwindled for a few years after. Since the Supreme Court upheld an order to reduce overcrowding in 2011, the state has taken hefty steps to quickly empty the prisons. The most effective (and controversial) of those steps has been prison realignment, which eliminated prison as a punishment option for low-leverl offenders who commit mostly drug and property crimes.
The other massive overhaul has been to the parole system. Before realignment, about 70 percent of parolees returned to prison within their three-year supervision period. A lot of them served short prison terms on parole violations, instead of longer sentences for new crimes. Because of this, in 2010, 47,000 inmates went to prison to serve 90 days or less. Realignment eliminated prison as a punishment for most parole violators, again reassigning that responsibility to California's counties. It also shifted supervisory responsibility for low-level offenders exiting prison to the counties.
Counties have reacted to this responsibility differently: with some embracing the new responsibilities, others fighting the chance, and all asking for more money from the state to handle all these new offenders.