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September 13, 2011

California to "start releasing thousands of female inmates who have children"

The quote in the title of this post is drawn from the lead of this new Los Angeles Times article, which is headlined "Prison officials are set to let some female inmates out early; Women who have children and are convicted of 'non-serious, non-sexual' crimes could start going home as early as next week as the state seeks to relieve overcrowding." Here is how the article begins:

Drastically redefining incarceration in California, prison officials are about to start releasing thousands of female inmates who have children to serve the remainder of their sentences at home.

The move, which could affect nearly half the women held in state facilities, will help California meet a court-imposed deadline to make space in its chronically overcrowded prisons. The policy could be extended to male inmates in the near future, administrators said Monday.

Mothers who were convicted of non-serious, non-sexual crimes — and have two years or less remaining on their sentences — could start going home as early as next week, prisons spokeswoman Dana Toyama said. The women would be required to wear GPS-enabled ankle bracelets and report to parole officers.

The program is "a step in breaking the intergenerational cycle of incarceration," state prisons Secretary Matthew Cate said, arguing that "family involvement is one of the biggest indicators of an inmate's rehabilitation."

But skeptics abound, including prosecutors and crime victims' advocates who opposed the idea as it worked its way through the Legislature last year. "If they were such great mothers to begin with, they never would have committed the heinous crime that got them sent to state prison," said Harriet Salarno, founder of Sacramento-based Crime Victims United. In many cases, the children might be better off in foster care, Salarno said.

Reuniting families clearly was not the only consideration that led prison officials to opt for home incarceration. In May, the state lost a U.S. Supreme Court appeal of a ruling that had found California's prison overcrowding and the resulting lack of access to medical care amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

September 13, 2011 at 12:39 PM | Permalink


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is there an equal protection issue if they are not going to release fathers who fit the same criteria?

Posted by: Tim Holloway | Sep 13, 2011 2:09:31 PM

Tim. The article reveals that men are also eligible.

"In crafting the bill, her intent was to single out female inmates with children," Oakes said. But that could not be done because of a constitutional ban against gender-based discrimination. So the phrase "primary caregiver" was added to the bill.

Oakes is the legislative director for state Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge). Wasn't that nice of a her.

This is wrong on so many levels. It really takes quite a bit to get a judge to send a woman to prison for a non-violent offense, far more than a man in my experience. Given that prison for non-violent offenses is nearly always due to repeat crime after probation failure, even more so for women, all this does is put the children back in the hands of some pretty unrepentant criminals who happen to be women.

Posted by: David | Sep 14, 2011 11:28:59 AM

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