California must reduce its prison population by nearly 43,000 inmates over the next two years. A three-judge panel made that ruling Tuesday, ordering the state to come up with a reduction plan by the middle of next month.
The judges said problems with the medical and mental care of inmates will not be resolved without a prisoner release order.
There are definite disagreements on what the early release of prisoners will mean in terms of crime, but there is still no guarantee that will happen.
Donovan State Prison was built for 2200 inmates. The population now stands at more than 4800. Some inmates are even housed in a cramped gymnasium. Only a small percentage of inmates get access to counseling or rehabilitation.
San Diego State Criminal Justice Professor Paul Sutton believes crime will not go up as a result of a few thousand inmates being released early.
“The notion that you let ten thousand people out of prison and it results in crime rate going up is nonsense,” Sutton said. “There's no basis to it."
He points out that nearly 100,000 are released every year as it is. “The kind of people that are gonna get out early, if anybody does, are very likely the people that never should've gone to prison in the first place,” he said.
But many law enforcement officials, like San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore are concerned.
"That puts another burden on our jail population and our criminal justice system here in San Diego County," said Captain Dan Pena with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
Parolees with drug problems are prone to theft and property crimes that would take officers away from focusing on more important issues. Even if inmates are released early, statistics show 7 out 10 parolees wind up right back in prison.
Sutton thinks the state has to be more restrictive with who goes into prison in the first place.
"Prison beds are a scarce resource, just like petroleum, just like air, just like water," he said.
With a two year deadline to reduce prison population and possible lawsuits lingering - most believe the issue of prison overcrowding is still several years away from seeing significant change.
“Realize that we didn't get into the crisis overnight and give us a little more time to get out of it," according to Sutton.