Courtney O'Brien

Across the country, Michigan is facing the potential closing of eight prisons and has declared seven jail overcrowding emergencies—will the federal court demand the early release of thousands of prisoners there as well? Ohio’s prisons are at 132 percent capacity, will the state have control over the fate of their corrections system? Effective policy is needed, but whose? The answer is explicit in the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution, which puts the power in the state’s hands. But when a bully feels the power of victory once, they often search for others to attack on the playground.

Speaking of playgrounds, the early release of 40,000 inmates means their return to almost every local community. The federal three-judge court believes that public safety will not be threatened because of the requirements, collection of good credits, that must be fulfilled before early release, and because the parole system will take on a “gradual increase” of cases to maintain accountability. But if California’s correction system is failing to even provide basic healthcare services, why should the public trust that their “good credit program will work? Prisoners can barely see a doctor to receive care, let alone a counselor.

In addition, the mass release of inmates will strain an already overburden parole/probation system. The court’s answer: that the effect will be “mitigated by the gradual release of prisoners” into the parole program. How is the release of 40,000 prisoners in two years, gradual? According to a study conducted by PEW Charitable Trusts, funding struggles throughout the nation have stretched parole staffing extremely thin, leading to inflated caseloads: 60 offenders per officer. Nationally the system is suffering, and so is California’s. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, over half of those released on parole returned to prison for reoffending in 2008. An increase to the parole population of 32 percent over two years will not keep crime rates stagnant, and will certainly not reduce it—especially if inmates are unable to receive proper care and treatment in their short stay behind bars.

Federal judges ordering the mass release of inmates from state prisons, tramples on the right of states to establish their own public safety laws and is possibly unconstitutional. Furthermore, these released prisoners will pose a huge threat to the safety of local communities in California. Prison overcrowding in California has reached an impasse and new avenues must be pursued, but the mass release of prisoners is not the answer. This drastic overstepping of power by the federal government onto states’ rights has set a dangerous precedent that should be challenged by California in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Courtney O'Brien

Courtney O'Brien is the Legislative Assistant for the Public Safety and Elections Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council.