Overcrowding Leads To California Prison Changes

In 2011, the California state prison system was prompted by the U.S. Supreme Court to make some significant changes. According to the Supreme Court, California state prisons were unacceptably overcrowded, leading to unconstitutionally inadequate health care for residents. The court declared the state needed to reduce the prison population by 33,000 people in order to provide adequate medical care.

California Law Shifts Sentences To Local Jails

To relieve the overcrowding, California legislators passed laws that took effect in October 2011, changing the penalties for a number of offenses to allow convicted people to serve time in county jails instead of state prisons. The plan was to make the change only for nonviolent offenses and not for people convicted of violent crimes or sex crimes. Now, after complaints arose about who was shifted to county jails, the law has recently been changed again.

New Laws Make Other Changes

Ten crimes have been shifted back to the control of state prisons, including some drug crimes and sex offenses. The new law also shifts more offenders to county jails, though. A few more nonviolent crimes now receive jail sentences instead of prison time, such as food stamp fraud and check fraud.

Those convicted of some offenses that could be considered violent will now go to county jail instead of state prison; these offenses include possession of dangerous items like sword canes, some explosives and a variety of knives. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation estimates about a dozen additional people a year will be subject to the most recent changes.

To ease congestion in jails, the law will also allow county officials to release inmates as much as 30 days early, instead of the five days now permitted. It also permits some people to be placed on electronic monitoring without a prior 30- or 60-day jail stay. People serving sentences in county jails also may be shifted to other county jails with fewer people.

Increased Funding To Improve Conditions

The shifts in county jails and state prisons are requiring some budget changes. New jail construction is being funded to the tune of $500 million, and counties are receiving $900 million in additional funding to pay for handling the increased population. Hopefully this increased funding will improve conditions for people serving sentences in county jails and state prisons.

Being accused of a crime can be a turbulent time in one's life. If you are facing criminal charges in California, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can represent your interests throughout the process and defend your rights.