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Prison releases pose no danger, experts testified

June 21, 2013|By Paige St. John

Early prison releases of the kind ordered by a federal court panel pose no threat to public safety, according to experts who testified on the matter the last time it came up in California.

In those 2009 hearings, five experts on crime, punishment and prisons told the court that allowing inmates with good behavior to shorten their prison terms by several months has little, if any, effect on crime in the community.

"There is no difference in recidivism rates by length of stay," James Austin, a Washington-based corrections consultant, testified at the time.

Among those agreeing with him was Jeffrey Beard, who at the time was Pennsylvania's prisons chief and now is the California corrections secretary.

Law enforcement groups reacting to Thursday's federal court order for California to immediately begin releasing inmates early because of good behavior took an opposite stance.

"The court has shown a complete disregard for the safety of communities across California," said Covina Police Chief Kim Raney, president of the California Police Chiefs Assn.

California has had early-release credits for a while. In 2009, lawmakers allowed inmates to shave off up to six weeks a year for completing approved programs, one day off for every day in prison discipline-free, and two days off for every day served at a fire camp.

The new court-ordered plan would require California, unless it comes up with other solutions, to give minimum-custody inmates two days off for every one served and to apply those credits retroactively. Thursday's order estimates that 5,385 inmates could be released that way by the end of December.

In past court filings, the state said it would take three months to set up and review inmate files before it could begin the releases. In its May plan to the court, the state had proposed that some criminals, such as sex offenders, not be eligible for the credits.


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