Non-violent inmates eligible for early release

A new state policy that allows non-violent criminals to be released early from jail has already released about 1,500 inmates statewide – over 400 in Orange County alone – since the law went into effect on Jan. 25.

This policy was created in order to downsize the massive amount of inmates the state currently has in its prison system – over 170,000, according to California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office.

“In the ’90s, the prison population expanded despite the fact that crime rates went down.” said professor of U.S. and Calif. history Volker Janssen, an expert on the history of prisons and penology.

Janssen said that the current overload of prisoners in California has nothing to do with rising crime rates but because politicians, trying to win the public’s favor, began to take a hard on crime stance leading to tougher sentencing.

The fact that the outflow of prisons has been consistently slower than the intake has caused the state’s prison system to be in violation of federal minimal standards for prisons, Janssen said.

“To save money, I think this is a good idea,” said Hailey Talamantes, an 18-year-old business and marketing major. “That money could be used more wisely, like towards schools.”

Talamantes expressed some anger at the rise in tuition combined with the furlough days that she believes are cutting into her education.

“Jail space should be used for more serious crimes,” said Talamantes

Even with the projected 15,000 inmates that could be released in the next 18 months, according to MSNBC, Talamantes doesn’t feel that her safety is at risk because they are non-violent criminals.

Many criminals released under this legislation will not turn back to crime, but some will. Those few will be the ones who will cause problems for this legislation, Janssen said.

The idea has kept many politicians from advocating this type of legislation in the past, Janssen said. But under the added pressure of the federal suit and crippling budget, a law was passed.

“This is a good excuse for politicians,” said Virginia Valverde, a 28-year-old psychology major. “It’s not that they want to, but because they have to.”

Valverde also believes that this new law, that provides a lesser punishment for drug use since it is a non-violent crime, will not result in the rise of drug use.

People do drugs not thinking that they will go to jail, it’s more of a compulsive act, Valverde said.

One effect that this legislation will have on the state and individual cities is the influx of virtually unemployable people that the prisons will be releasing, Janssen said.

“You can release these ex-prisoners,” said Janssen, “but it won’t solve the problem.”

About Michael Arellano