Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is considering the early release of 22,000 inmates from the state's prisons to save hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to ease California's looming budget crunch.Well, no need to be unfair to the victims. Instead, why not choose a different set of criteria for selecting prisoners to be freed from the Anal Rape Gulag? How about cutting loose the people whose crimes don't have victims, and aren't really crimes anyway? I have in mind the "controlled substance" offenders. And then -- even though the numbers aren't large, we should be scrupulously fair -- turn loose those convicted of "insider trading." Hey, Ah-nuld, got anybody in the can for practicing any trade -- from doctoring to lawyering to plumbing -- without a government license? Let 'em walk.
The idea is one of many that have been presented to the governor by his departmental budget directors, and he has not decided if he likes it or not, Schwarzenegger spokesman Bill Maile said Thursday. But if the plan were to be put into action, it would constitute one of the biggest early releases of prisoners in U.S. history.
"The governor asked his department heads to work with their budget managers to find ways to cut the budget by 10 percent because of the budget crisis we are facing, and this idea was one of many that was floated in reaction to that request," Maile said. "It's not a proposal yet, just an idea."
California has 172,000 inmates incarcerated in 33 institutions. The release of 22,000 offenders would reduce the number of inmates by 12 percent, and potentially save about $250 million a year, sources told The Chronicle.
Only prisoners who are considered low risk because they are nonviolent, not sex offenders and had less than two years left on their sentences would be considered for the early release.
Eric Hickey, a criminology professor at the California State University Fresno, said the concept of releasing prisoners early is not new. He also did not think it was wise.
"A lot of these guys are getting time off already for good behavior, so letting them out even earlier sends a message that we're not serious about being tough on crime," Hickey said. "It's not good policy.
"It's unfair to the victims, and it sends the wrong message."
He noted that the recidivism rate among state prisoners - the rate at which they re-offend and have to go back to prison - runs as high as 75 percent.
"When times get tough, someone always proposes letting prisoners go early," Hickey said.
The savings should be permanent; just stop imprisoning people for non-crimes. That way, you don't need so many cops, either ... or prosecutors. I can think up some more release categories, I'm sure. But, you know, just get started by turning the stoners and the tweakers loose, and that will be enough to solve your budget problems.