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Space Shortages in State Prisons

March 23, 1997

One of the most frightening headlines for anyone to see is one like "Under Court Order, Florida Frees 300 Felons; Many More to Follow" (March 13). What most Californians don't realize is that Florida is not alone. Last year more than 325,000 California jail inmates were released early due to a lack of space in county jails. Early releases, in my opinion, lead to increased crime and victimization and breed a lack of respect for society and its rules.

Nearly half of California's 58 counties, Los Angeles included, are forced to live under federal court orders that mandate maximum population levels for their jails and lead to early releases of convicted felons. Thus far, California state prisons have been able to avoid similar court intervention. However, each month that passes without additional prisons being built increases the probability of court-ordered "early outs" for convicted felons.

California prisons are not maxed out yet, but they are very close. Prisons such as the California Institute for Men in Chino, which is presently holding 5,830 inmates in a facility intended to hold 2,778 inmates, are bursting at the seams. Systemwide there are 147,833 inmates housed in prisons intended for roughly 80,000. Prisoners are being housed in double- and triple-bunked units in day rooms and gymnasiums. The time has come for the Legislature to step up and do what is right and what is needed--build more prisons.

In 1994, the people of this state demanded that career criminals be taken off the street following their third strike. That same year, the Legislature approved more than 104 sentence-enhancement bills. Yet, our elected representatives have failed year after year to approve construction of prisons to house those criminals. The number of inmates in California state prisons only represents about 20% of all convicted felons. Where are the others? They are in our neighborhoods, having been sentenced to jail, probation or both, rather than a state prison.

JOE SANDOVAL, Secretary

Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, Sacramento

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