Jail Break! Convicted Criminals in California Set Free to Save Money


SACRAMENTO, CA (CBS/AP) In an effort to save money, California has approved an early release program for prisoners. The new reform aims to cut costs and reduce crowding in state prisons and county jails, but some wonder if the program goes too far.

Although the governor promised the new reform would preserve public safety, many of the criminals who have already been released under the program were convicted of crimes such as assault with a deadly weapon, battery, domestic violence and attacks on children and elderly, just to name a few.

The early release program took effect in January and within the first few weeks, more than 1,800 prisoners were released statewide before they had served their full sentences, according to the California State Sheriffs' Association.

Authorities forbid freeing prisoners convicted of about 150 crimes, such as rape and murder, but convictions are not always black and white.

"Some are no brainers," said Alameda County Sheriff's Sgt. J.D. Nelson, but with others, "It's a slippery slope. Sometimes you have an attempted rape, but it's pleaded down to a misdemeanor. So now you're going to let that guy out early?"

In Sacramento County, an inmate who had been released under the new law  was arrested within a day on suspicion of attempting to rape a woman. Although the inmate had been jailed for a probation violation, his preliminary offense was assault with a deadly weapon.

California is not the only state looking to cut back. A variation of early release programs began last year in a dozen other states: Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The early release program in Illinois was suspended after 200 of the paroled inmates were returned to prison within the first four months due to violations.

Democratic Assemblyman Ted Lieu of California said, "This bill not only theoretically will result in a public safety catastrophe, it already has."