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Old 12-02-2003, 10:31 AM
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Default Prison reform aimed at reducing inmates

Prison reform aimed at reducing inmates


By ROBERT McCOCKRAN, Times-Herald staff writer
In an effort to do its share to cut costs, the California Department of Corrections will institute a number of measures next year they hope will also benefit the inmates.

Beginning Jan. 1, CDC reforms will begin that prison officials say eventually could reduce the overcrowded state inmate population by as much as 9 percent. Such a reduction, they say, will lead to coinciding cost cuts.

The reforms include education efforts aimed at making it easier for parolees to avoid a return to prison walls.

In California, when a man or woman violates parole, agents basically have two options: They can either leave them on parole or send them back to prison, said Terry Thornton, a CDC spokeswoman.

"Sending a person back to prison is very expensive and may not be the appropriate thing for everybody who violates parole," she said.

It might be a parolee who has a job and a place to live who had a fight with his girlfriend or tested "dirty" on a drug test. Sending him to prison might not be the best option, she said.

"We're going to look at things like home detention with electronic monitoring and substance abuse treatment programs and using the community resources for him," Thornton said.

In other words, "address the reason why he violated parole and do some sort of intermediate sanction rather than the either-or we've got currently," Thornton said.

"In the next year-and-a-half or so, we're hoping we'll have fewer parole violators returning to prison (and) we hope to shed about

15,000 inmates from the inmate population," she said. "Really, the only way you can reduce the Department of Corrections budget is to reduce the inmate population. The whole budget is predicated on how many inmates you have."

On Nov. 19, there were 162,528 inmates in the system. The CDC's current annual budget is $5.3 billion.

Thornton said Richard Rimmer, deputy director of the Parole Division, had been working on the changes for more than a year. That included looking at what other states are doing.

Many of the changes, which were included in the current budget, will be implemented Jan. 1.

Thornton said the inmates' education system will also be restructured and "pre-release" programs will be enhanced to better prepare the men and women for life on the outside.

Restructuring the education program will afford an inmate the opportunity to earn day-for-day credits (that can shorten his time) as soon as he arrives at the reception center.

Presently, inmates at the reception center (a designated prison, like San Quentin, where a medical history and mental evaluation are done and a determination is made as to where the prisoner will do his time) are not classified, cannot work and don't earn credits.

But this reform allows inmates to immediately begin earning credits through the Bridging Education Program, where the teacher delivers instructional materials to their cells or instruction via the in-house television system, Thornton said.

- E-mail Robert McCockran at robertm@thnewsnet.com or call 553-6829.
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