The California Penal System is a mess, one of the worst in the nation. Prisons are severely overcrowded and currently running at 200% capacity. In 2009 a panel of 3 federal judges ruled that the state must ease over crowding and release one-third of its inmates, about 40,000, bringing the number down to 137.5% of capacity. The State immediately appealed the ruling and arguments were heard by the U S Supreme Court in late November 2010. A decision is expected soon.
Whatever the court decides, Californians are in for more hard times. If the Justices order the release of prisoners to ease over-crowding, 40,000 former inmates will be set free and need rehabilitation services and programs, adding to our current economic woes and burdening an already extremely overloaded probation system, not to mention striking fear into the general populace. If they find in the states favor they could rule that California must build new prisons to alleviate the over-crowding, in which case our state budget takes a major hit. We are already spending about 10% of our budget on the prison system, about the same as we spend on the UC and Cal State education system. Either way we lose. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what the Supreme Court decides.
Even with our courts agreeing to more plea bargains, reduced sentencing, house arrest, community service and probation, the over-crowding continues. On average criminals charged with non violent crimes serve only half of their sentences, but even that hasn’t helped. Tough on crime laws of the 80’s and 90’s including our ‘three strikes rule’ caused our prison population to rise dramatically and it has continued to rise. So here we are stuck between a rock and a hard place, awaiting our fate, but hey, prisoners have rights too.
Which brings me to the tale of one such inmate freed after serving half her sentence. For the last two and a half years she has been a model parolee yet this past New Years Eve she was called into see her parole officer and was told she had mistakenly been released. She was immediately rearrested and returned to prison where she awaits the decision of the court. The mistake was made by a correction department employee who calculated her release date using the 50% formula for non violent crimes. She however had been found guilty of a violent crime and by law must serve 85% of her original sentence. It doesn’t matter that she thought she’d served her time and been free for two and a half years or that she was a model parolee or that she ‘s pregnant! She has time left to serve and mistake be damned, according to the great state of California, she will serve it.
There are many who are calling for her release. Her attorney calls her rearrest “questionable and morally outrageous” and the way the state is treating a woman whose pregnancy is high risk is reprehensible. Perhaps, but she committed a violent crime. In fact her crime was the worst kind of violence, violence on a newborn infant! The baby she was supposed to be caring for sustained serious injuries including broken legs, broken ribs and a fractured skull and not accidentally, she just lost it! Seven years later the child still suffers optic nerve damage.
Fair or unfair? Should this pregnant woman, found guilty of severely beating an infant, sentenced to prison, then mistakenly released early, rearrested and re-imprisoned, be set free? I don’t know. One part of me feels that after two and a half years of freedom and being an exemplary parolee, maybe she’s learned her lesson and should never have been put back in prison. But another part of me believes she should serve out her entire term. I mean she was set free by error, and she nearly killed a baby! A defenseless infant! Would she do it again? I don’t know. But rules are rules and overcrowded prisons or not maybe she should be held accountable for her actions. She did the crime – should she do her time?
Just a Thought,