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Governor Seeks Review Of California Prison Sentencing Guidelines December 22, 2006

Posted by notapundit in US News.
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SACRAMENTO (AP)–Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Thursday he will seek a review of California’s prison sentencing guidelines, a politically risky undertaking that is part of a wide-ranging plan to address the state’s prison crisis.

The governor also is proposing an $11 billion building program to add space for thousands of additional inmates and changes to the state parole system.

Schwarzenegger characterized the state’s prisons as “in deep need of reform.”

“My administration inherited a system that was dangerously overcrowded, poorly managed and out of control,” he said during a Capitol news conference to release his plan. “Now we are at the point where if we don’t clean up the mess, the federal court is going to do the job for us. As governor, I cannot let that happen.”

His proposals come as pressure is mounting on the administration to fix a system widely seen as dysfunctional and dangerous to both inmates and guards.

Federal courts have taken authority over many aspects of prison operations, from inmate health care to treatment of the mentally ill. Judges have threatened to reach into the state treasury if lawmakers fail to fix the problems.

Schwarzenegger proposed a 17-member commission that would include four legislators, the attorney general, the corrections secretary, a judge and representatives of law enforcement and crime victims’ groups. They would serve four-year terms.

Commissioners would spend their first year examining whether California’s mandatory three-year parole period could be safely shortened for some ex-convicts.

Last week, a federal judge gave the administration a June deadline to ease crowding that is aggravating violence, suicides and poor inmate health care. If it fails to meet it, the courts could order inmates to be released early or cap the prison population.

“Either we do it or the federal courts are going to step in and do it,” said state Sen. George Runner, the state Senate’s Republican Caucus chairman.

Critics questioned whether the commission would be capable of proposing significant reform because it won’t have authority to make changes in the law and its membership tilts heavily toward police, prosecutors and victims’ relatives.

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