Wednesday, December 12, 2007

State miscalculations could result in earlier prison releases

story from LA TIMES.COM

State miscalculations could result in earlier prison releases
33,000 prisoners could be affected. A labor union files suit against the corrections agency.
By Michael Rothfeld, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
12:03 PM PST, December 12, 2007
SACRAMENTO -- Up to 33,000 prisoners in California may be entitled to release earlier than scheduled because the state has miscalculated their sentences, corrections officials said today.

It is unclear whether that group includes inmates who should already be free. The prisoners in question are serving consecutive sentences for violent and nonviolent offenses.

The state does not have enough staff to recalculate the sentences according to courts' instructions, said corrections spokesman Seth Unger. Over the past two years, state courts have ruled that the inmates should be getting more time subtracted from their sentences for good behavior.

Based on the rulings, the state has estimated that nearly 20% of its prison population is affected. A preliminary analysis ordered by Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary James Tilton in August indicated that about 600 of those inmates should be released in the next two years, Unger said.

The state has an overall prison population of 173,000 and is undertaking the addition of thousands more beds because of overcrowding. The swollen prison system has contributed to the eroding finances of the state, which faces a $14 billion budget gap next year.

A state labor union filed a lawsuit today in Sacramento County Superior Court that accuses the corrections agency of violating state and federal law by failing to calculate the sentences properly. The Service Employees International Union, which is planning the suit, represents state case records analysts.

Approximately 85 more analysts are needed, Unger said. He said it was unclear how much the additional staff might cost; that expense could be offset by savings from releasing the prisoners.

michael.rothfeld@latimes.com

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