In a statewide effort to reduce budget spending, several state and county prisons have released 1,500 inmates, including 401 from Orange County prisons.
Under the new state law, that went into effect January 25, inmates are able to reduce their sentence by as much as half, replacing the one-third possible under previous guidelines.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation last year declaring severe overcrowding in California prisons, which posed a health and safety risk for the workers and inmates.
The ruling presented a way of implementing prison population reduction without affecting public safety by adopting a combination of parole reform and releasing low risk prisoners with short-term sentences and good time credits.
Despite growing concerns regarding inmates being released back into society early, some experts are reassuring students that there will be little impact on crime rates and the releases will significantly help with the California budget crisis.
California Attorney General Jerry Brown specified that inmates will start accruing good credits for positive behavior and completing other programs specifically for time served after January 25.
Overcrowded prisons and the resulting health risks were the main concern in passing the law, however due to unfortunate timing, it has become an issue of budget and public safety.
Cal State Fullerton Associate Professor of criminal justice Dr. Kevin Meehan said, â€œThere are unconstitutional, illegal levels of healthcare. The court has tried to develop a method of reducing the problems. They need a plan for an early release.â€
Addressing the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation around the time of the ruling, an expert panel projected that the early inmate release law is expected to save California between $803 and $906 million per year.
According to the California State Sheriff’s Association, 21 of the state’s 58 counties have started releasing inmates as of the first week of February.
Officials have also said the law would reduce the state prison population by 6,500 by releasing low risk offenders over the next year.
â€œItâ€™s a part of a much larger, more comprehensive method of reducing prison population. Itâ€™s essentially a necessity,â€ Meehan said.
Meehan also pointed out that while doing anything with this large a number of people there can be one or more cases that can deviate from the norm and cause problems.
â€œI disagree with it (the law) because once theyâ€™re released, thereâ€™s going to be very little control over them,â€ said 20-year-old business major Rebecca Singer.
Public safety has become a prominent issue for the new law, resulting in a civil lawsuit recently filed by the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs. The deputies called the early releases a threat to the public and deputies. A judge denied a request for a temporary restraining order that would have prevented the early release of inmates.
In the wake of ongoing protests against fee increases and education budget cuts, Dr. Jarret Lovell, Cal State Fullerton associate professor of criminal justice, emphasized that many people are only looking at one side of the debate.
â€œItâ€™s political posturing,” Lovell said. â€œIf there are cuts to education, why not cuts to incarceration? They both are dealing with public safety.â€
Campus safety and a potential rise in crime rates are some of the concerns for the student body and Fullerton community. Campus Police has said that the early inmate releases will not affect the university and that they will continue to proactively patrol the campus as usual.
Campus Police Lieutenant John Brockie said based on recidivism rates, which refers to a tendency to relapse into criminal behavior, the majority of inmates released early will commit another crime.