Wednesday, December 12, 2007

For Want of a Record Keeper

Thank you to the kind person who sent along this CA story about the backlog of recalculating and processing sentences of offenders who may qualify for earlier release based on a fed appeals court decision that their original sentences may have been figured incorrectly. This is really a fascinating, if depressing, tale of the perfect storms of bureaucracy and inadequate funding brewing up even more problems for that troubled system. Here are a few excerpts:

As many as 33,000 California inmates could be freed early, after the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation recalculates their release dates based on recent court decisions, officials say.

But a union that represents prison records clerks says a shortage of workers is stalling the state's recalculation. Service International Employees Union Local 1000 planned to sue the department Wednesday, alleging the delay could be costing taxpayers millions of dollars as well as depriving convicts of their rights.

It costs the state an estimated $43,287 a year to incarcerate each inmate. In addition, the state is embarking on a $7.8 billion program to add space in prisons and jails for 53,000 more inmates to relieve crowding.

The additional cells might not be needed if inmates were freed on time, the union will argue in its filing asking for the courts to intervene.
The rulings by California's 4th District Court of Appeal interpreted state sentencing laws on how to calculate early release credits for inmates who are serving sentences for various combinations of violent and nonviolent offenses. The court found that some inmates were not given the early release credit they deserved.

The union will file the suit Wednesday in Sacramento County Superior Court, said spokesman Danny Beagle. The union represents more than 14,000 prison nurses, clerks, teachers, food service and other prison employees. It has been pushing the state to hire more records clerks.

"CDCR won't hire or train enough people to do the work the courts have said we must do," union vice president Marc Bautista said in a statement. "It undermines the credibility of the whole system."
The department wants to take particular care to make sure no inmate is improperly released before completing his or her full sentence, Unger said.

It is unclear if the process will affect the department's budget because the cost of hiring and training more clerks could be offset by having fewer inmates, Unger said.

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