Calif. Judges Order Prisoners Released
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.
RICHARD GONZALES: Then yesterday, a three-judge panel said the only possible relief is for California to drastically reduce its prison population. Many of the problems have centered around mentally ill prisoners. Michael Bien is an attorney who's argued on their behalf.
BLOCK: It is a comprehensive victory for the position that we advocated, that overcrowding must be addressed, and must be addressed now, in order to remedy the ongoing horrific constitutional violations in the health-care delivery system in the California prisons.
GONZALES: In a 10-page ruling, the judges said the state's prisons should be reduced by nearly 60,000 inmates, and that goal could be met gradually over two or three years. State officials immediately balked, announcing that they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if the ruling becomes final. Seth Unger is a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He says the judges' ruling amounts to emptying seven to 10 prisons.
BLOCK: So, we believe that that will be very difficult to do without compromising public safety. Over 50 percent of the inmates that are in our prisons are convicted of crimes against persons. These are things like murder, manslaughter, assault, kidnapping, sex offenses - serious crimes. And so, a release order of that magnitude would certainly have to include some of those classes of inmates.
GONZALES: Nobody is talking about letting go violent and dangerous offenders.
GONZALES: Barry Krisberg is the president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and a longtime prison reform advocate.
GONZALES: We're talking about low-level offenders, property offenders, drug offenders, moving them out a little bit earlier than they would be released anyway. Somebody who would've got out in June now gets out in March.
GONZALES: Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.
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