Prison officials are set to let some female inmates out early

Jack Dolan (Los Angeles Times)| September 13, 2011

Reporting from Sacramento—Drastically redefining incarceration in California, prison officials are about to start releasing thousands of female inmates who have children to serve the remainder of their sentences at home.

The move, which could affect nearly half the women held in state facilities, will help California meet a court-imposed deadline to make space in its chronically overcrowded prisons. The policy could be extended to male inmates in the near future, administrators said Monday.

Mothers who were convicted of non-serious, non-sexual crimes — and have two years or less remaining on their sentences — could start going home as early as next week, prisons spokeswoman Dana Toyama said. The women would be required to wear GPS-enabled ankle bracelets and report to parole officers.

The program is “a step in breaking the intergenerational cycle of incarceration,” state prisons Secretary Matthew Cate said, arguing that “family involvement is one of the biggest indicators of an inmate’s rehabilitation.”

But skeptics abound, including prosecutors and crime victims’ advocates who opposed the idea as it worked its way through the Legislature last year.

“If they were such great mothers to begin with, they never would have committed the heinous crime that got them sent to state prison,” said Harriet Salarno, founder of Sacramento-based Crime Victims United. In many cases, the children might be better off in foster care, Salarno said.

Reuniting families clearly was not the only consideration that led prison officials to opt for home incarceration. In May, the state lost a U.S. Supreme Court appeal of a ruling that had found California’s prison overcrowding and the resulting lack of access to medical care amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Now state officials are struggling to meet a strict timeline that requires them to reduce the inmate population by more than 30,000 before July 2013. Gov. Jerry Brown‘s plan is to let thousands of low-level felons serving relatively short sentences do their time in county jails instead of state prisons.

If a significant number of the state’s roughly 150,000 incarcerated men could qualify for the program as “primary caregivers” for their children, early release would go a long way toward easing overcrowding without putting additional strain on local lock-ups.

Read more at: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-prison-home-20110913,0,6210913.story?track=rss

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