Friday, August 21, 2009
The legislation includes controversial plans such as allowing nonviolent elderly and sick inmates to finish their sentences outside prison walls in homes or community hospitals, where they would be monitored with GPS devices. The bill also includes the creation of a sentencing commission that would revamp the state's punishment and parole rules.
Republicans argued strongly against the bill.
"If this becomes law, the people of
GOP lawmakers also warned that the sentencing commission, which would include a nonvoting former inmate, would weaken the state's tough-on-crime laws.
"You have the gall to put a felon on there?" Senate Republican leader Dennis Hollingsworth of Murrieta (
Close voteAfter more than four hours, the Senate voted 21-19 to approve the bill, barely clearing the simple-majority hurdle.
The Assembly adjourned at midnight Thursday without debating the bill and will return Monday.
Speaker Karen Bass, D-Baldwin Vista (
The changes would mean a loss of about $200 million in savings and Bass said she did not know how the Legislature would make that up.
There also would be changes to the sentencing commission, including eliminating a nonvoting seat for a former inmate. The changes would reduce the prison population by about 10,000 fewer inmates than the Senate plan would over two years.
Bass said she is concerned that waiting until Monday could be a political risk, but she said she thought it ultimately would not derail the plan.
"I just wasn't going to hold people here for three more hours ... and know there would still be members uncomfortable because their constituents hadn't had a chance to see it," Bass said.
Earlier, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he agreed with Republicans that public safety should be the No. 1 concern, but argued that the bill would result in greater public safety because it would allow authorities to focus more of their resources on violent criminals.
For example, the Senate bill would lower the ratio between parole agents and parolees from the current 70 to 1 to 45 to 1.
"Does this plan do more to protect people from more violent predators?" he said. "I would argue ... that it does."
Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood (
"We have guys sitting in the joint who've had strokes," he said. "If you're blind and have one leg ... I won't worry about you anyway."
The bill was part of a plan to cut prison spending by $1.2 billion this year to help reduce the state's $24 billion deficit.
Administrative cutsBesides the $525 million in savings in the bill, another $665 million would be saved by Schwarzenegger's actions. For example, the governor plans to use his authority to commute the sentences of some nonviolent illegal immigrant inmates and hand them over to federal authorities for deportation.
The governor also plans to cut costs by eliminating vacant administrative positions at the corrections department's
The provisions of the bill that the Senate approved are:
-- $42 million saved by allowing the early release of inmates who complete certain rehabilitation programs, such as by earning GEDs and taking vocational training classes.
-- $134 million saved by reducing the influx of new prisoners by changing some property crimes that now qualify as felonies to misdemeanors. Petty thefts, writing bad checks and receiving stolen property would no longer be charged as felonies. Stealing cars valued at $2,500 or less could be charged as misdemeanors instead of an automatic felony.
-- $120.5 million saved by allowing certain inmates to finish their sentences at homes or hospitals under GPS monitoring. Qualifying inmates would need to be at least 60 years old or severely ill and have less than one year to serve.
-- $30 million saved by allowing certain felons who violate probation to serve time in county jails instead of having them sent back to prisons.
-- $198.5 million saved by changing the state's parole system so that some low- and moderate-risk offenders would not be subject to parole revocation. Also, certain serious offenders would be eligible for early parole discharge if they successfully complete drug treatment.