Legislators Balk at Schwarzenegger's Prison Release Plan

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State lawmakers Thursday got their first up-close look at one of Governor Schwarzenegger's proposals to cut state spending. He's proposed letting 22,000 non-violent prison inmates out early, and putting them on unsupervised parole. KPCC's State Capitol reporter Julie Small says legislators are having none of it.

Dennis Hollingsworth: Do you want to endanger the public safety... for what?

Julie Small: Republican Dennis Hollingsworth doesn't care that the Department of Corrections would only release inmates who've never committed a violent crime. The vice chair of the Senate Budget Committee says it's still not worth the $400 million the state would save. Hollingsworth predicted those inmates, many of them thieves and drug felons, would still cause problems for county officials, who'd have to pay to prosecute and jail them again.

Hollingsworth: Do you at all understand why we're having a tough time looking at this as a serious proposal?

Small: Democrat Mike Machado didn't like the plan, either. The chair of the Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety favors a different plan commissioned last year.

Mike Machado: We spent a million dollars and convened a panel of experts from across the United States. They outlined a roadmap that could result in the same type of population changes that we would equate to the same type of dollar savings that we're looking for. Only it's over a period of time, versus happening instantaneously.

Small: One plan would let inmates earn an early release by participating in rehabilitation programs in prison. Administration officials said they studied the expert panel's projections on how much programs like that would save the state, but the numbers didn't add up. Finance Director H.D. Palmer:

H.D. Palmer: We had an immediate issue to deal with, which is to meet a 10% reduction.

Small: Palmer says there's only one way to cut the state's prison budget by that much.

Palmer: The Corrections Department is unique in the sense that, more than any program probably in state government, it is driven by the number of the inmates who are in the system. And so to achieve those kind of savings, these are the types of steps that have to be taken.

Small: Judging by the Senate Budget Committee's reaction, Governor Schwarzenegger will have to look for other steps he can take to slash state spending.