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Depressurizing the prisons

February 14, 2009

Re "Judge backs inmate cuts," Feb. 10

Our prisons are so grossly overcrowded that the people locked in them aren't getting the healthcare required by law. Yet at a time of budgetary crisis, our state government leaders would rather engage in a lengthy legal battle than find a way to safely reduce the prison population.

I'm convinced that the biggest thing standing in the way of limiting the number of people we lock up is not real concern for public safety, but the effective lobbying efforts of those who make their living in the prison/industrial complex. Our elected officials need to start seriously looking at parole and sentencing reform. Prison populations in this state can be reduced without adversely affecting public safety; it will just take some backbone.

Laurel Gord

Venice

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The tentative federal court decision to release up to 57,000 inmates from California's overcrowded prisons is yet another reminder of the catastrophic failure of our state's correctional system. California needs comprehensive sentencing reform and an overhaul of our parole system.

But what can we do now? I don't have the magic bullet, but one obvious place to start is to immediately release all prisoners incarcerated on marijuana-related offenses. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reports that about 1,500 people are behind bars for marijuana-related felonies. When California is faced with the prospect of releasing violent criminals and individuals whom Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown considers "deeply disturbed," not even one person should be incarcerated for a nonviolent marijuana offense.

F. Aaron Smith

Santa Rosa

The writer is California policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

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