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Voters Decide Fate Of Death Row, Three Strike Prisoners As Sheriff Grapples With Jail Overcrowding

As law enforcement and elected officials contend with local jail overcrowding, two statewide initiatives are on the ballot this year that could impact California’s prison population.

Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff reported this week that since Jan. 1, his department has “been forced to early release 5,470 inmates” from local jails as a result of overcrowding.

Under a federal court order, Sniff said he is required “to release inmates anytime our Riverside County jail system exceeds [its] official rated capacity.”

While Sniff contends with crowded county jails, state prisons could be impacted on Nov. 6 when California voters decide the fate of third strike offenders and inmates sentenced to death.

Local Jails

The sheriff has repeatedly stated that jail overcrowding is due to which was signed into law last year and mandates that most offenders convicted after Oct. 1, 2011 of a non-violent crime be sentenced to county jail, not state prison.

The legislation was crafted in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found California’s state prison system was overcrowded and needed to dramatically reduce its inmate population.

“It was the State's complete failure to address its chronic and severe prison overcrowding over the years that ultimately is directly responsible for the recent and precipitous transfer of thousands of inmates to our local jails and to local oversight, all under California Assembly Bill 109 (Realignment) in 2011,” Sniff said this week. “This has had a disastrous impact on our local jails across California, causing increasingly severe overcrowding problems.”

Sniff argues that AB 109 was not thought through carefully, and the legislature “has not cleaned up the bill's serious flaws.”

He went on to say that the Sheriff’s Department will put together a staff package over the next few weeks of recommended legislative fixes for AB 109.

The Question For Voters

As law enforcement and elected officials grapple with local jail overcrowding, two statewide initiatives are on the ballot this year that could impact California’s prison population.

Proposition 36 asks voters if they want to revise the state’s Three Strikes law. If passed, Prop. 36 would mandate that if a felon with two prior serious or violent felony convictions gets a third strike, life in prison would only be imposed if the third conviction is also “serious or violent.”

Prop. 36 proponents maintain anyone convicted of an “extremely violent crime” — such as rape, murder, or child molestation — will still receive a life sentence no matter how minor the third strike crime.

By shortening the sentencing for specific third strike offenders, Prop. 36 proponents argue more than $100 million in California taxpayer money would be saved annually. Critics urge Prop. 36 will release dangerous criminals early.

Under AB 109, a felon convicted of prior serious or violent crimes is sentenced to prison – not county jail – for subsequent crimes.

Also on the ballot this year is Proposition 34, which, if passed, will repeal California’s death penalty.

Proponents argue Prop. 34 would save taxpayer dollars if passed; opponents say the initiative costs the state.

Impact On Local Jails And State Prisons

Pass or fail, Prop. 34 is not expected to have an immediate impact on the state’s prison population given California's current moratorium on Capital Punishment. As for how much impact Prop. 36 could have on the state’s prison population, opponents of the measure claim up to 3,000 prisoners could potentially receive shortened sentences.

The Yes on 36 camp is not making claims that passage of the proposition will alleviate local jail overcrowding, but according to the “Yes on 36, Three Strikes Reform” campaign sponsored by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Prop. 36 “will help ensure that there is room in our prisons for truly dangerous criminals … .”

JMO October 18, 2012 at 09:20 AM
Build more jails, Stop the catch and release program to many arrest made with ppl wearing a ankle bracelet. I am voting to keep the Death penalty Even Jesus Christ wasn't immune to it. BTW can we speed it up push up the appeals to within 72 hours and insert IV withen a year or 5 most!!
Sandy October 18, 2012 at 12:33 PM
I've lost all hope in California. Our law makers look out for their best interest, the Feds have turned their backs on its citizens, and it seems like its only getting darker. We have 6 kids, were native Californians who never thought about leaving until now. We're flying out for Texas today to scout it out and see if its the right location for our family. I don't want to raise my family here anymore. Good job California! You just chased another middle class homeowner away. Good luck with your prisons!
Anon October 18, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Sandy, all the good people want to leave. We are tired of being doormats for the liberals to walk on. Not sure what they will do without our tax dollars.
CaWasteWatcher October 18, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Don't waste a single penny by building more California jails staffed by over-paid prison guards, with out-of-control benefits and pension plans. Contract this work to out-of-state private prisons. I don't care if their families are here - Send these offenders to North Dakota or some place similar. The liklihood is that their rat-bag families will follow them there and we'll be rid of two pariahs!
Diana October 18, 2012 at 04:43 PM
If they would send all the illegals that are over crowding our jails and prisons back to their own countries they wouldn't need to worry about early release. Any illegal in our jails have it better then they do in there own country so they don't mind being housed, they need to be deported, I am so tired of supporting the illegals on the streets and behind bars. I'm with Sandy and American, I would love to leave California, however I would never move to another border State.
Chris Bernstien October 18, 2012 at 06:12 PM
The 729 on death row murdered at least 1,279 people, with 230 children. 43 were police officers. 211 were raped, 319 were robbed, 66 were killed in execution style, and 47 were tortured. 11 murdered other inmates. The arguments in support of Pro. 34, the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty, are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and false. No “savings.” Alleged savings ignore increased life-time medical costs for aging inmates and require decreased security levels and housing 2-3 inmates per cell rather than one. Rather than spending 23 hours/day in their cell, inmates will be required to work. These changes will lead to increased violence for other inmates and guards and prove unworkable for these killers. Also, without the death penalty, the lack of incentive to plead the case to avoid the death penalty will lead to more trial and related costs and appeals. No “accountability.” Max earnings for any inmate would amount to $383/year (assuming 100% of earnings went to victims), divided by number of qualifying victims. Hardly accounts for murdering a loved one.
Chris Bernstien October 18, 2012 at 06:13 PM
No “full enforcement” as 729 inmates do not receive penalty given them by jurors. Also, for the 34,000 inmates serving life sentences, there will be NO increased penalty for killing a guard or another inmate. They’re already serving a life sentence. Efforts are also being made to get rid of life sentences. (Human Rights Watch, Old Behind Bars, 2012.) This would lead to possible paroles for not only the 729 on death row, but the 34,000 others serving life sentences. On 9/30/12, Brown passed the first step, signing a bill to allow 309 inmates with life sentences for murder to be paroled after serving as little as 15 years. Life without parole is meaningless. Remember Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan. Convicted killers get out and kill again, such as Darryl Thomas Kemp, Kenneth Allen McDuff, and Bennie Demps. Arguments of innocence bogus. Can’t identify one innocent person executed in CA. Can’t identify one person on CA’s death row who has exhausted his appeals and has a plausible claim of innocence. See http://cadeathpenalty.webs.com/
N1smo2go October 18, 2012 at 06:28 PM
I say we take our entire prison population load the worst of the worst up on every Air Force cargo plane we have, strap parachutes on them and drop them off on Midway Island. create an island penal colony, air drop food to them but thats it. Oh wait that was a movie, wish it were real. Death row prisoners get 5 years for appeals that is it and then we are done.
T 22 October 18, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Anybody that is convicted of First Degree Murder, should never, never be released from prison. Either Death or Life without Parole should be the only options. When a family has to live the rest of their life without their loved one, the killer should never have a chance at a free life. The system needs to be fixed, not abolished. Imagine your child is murdered in cold blood at twenty years old. The murderer is 22, in our system of Life without Parole, the murderer could and probably will get out before he reaches the age of the muder victims parents at the time of the murder. How is that fair?
Fugu Sushi October 18, 2012 at 10:35 PM
Voting for Prop. 34 will save taxpayers millions on appeals, something every death row inmate has a legal right to file. That money would be better spent supporting families of victims and education programs.
Jason EHS '99 October 19, 2012 at 01:38 AM
Wastewatcher, over paid guards? Im not sure where exactly you get your info but a guard only makes an average of about $15.00 per hour or about $34,000.00 per year. If you want to cut money, cut the law makers, not the law enforcers. Law makers make 34k/month and have lifetime free medical and lifetime 85% retirement. Law enforcers must work 30 years for only 65% and they only get retirement for 30 yrs. Plus they get only 50% of the medical and after there 30 years of retirement is over, they have no income, no health coverage. Hows that over paid? Do everyone a favor, if u ever need help, dont call 911 cause just remember, there overpaid
Balance October 19, 2012 at 02:15 AM
You make a very good point that an inmate could kill guards or other inmates with no concern for a worse sentence.
Balance October 19, 2012 at 02:24 AM
You make in interesting point about money that would be saved by eliminating the cost of appeals. You suggest that this cost is in the millions. We need to compare this cost with the cost of housing, feeding and providing healthcare to the inmates for life. What is the net?
Wizard Without Remorse October 19, 2012 at 06:52 AM
I looked up the State of California pay and benefits for a CDC prison guard. They earn of $3000.00 per month while in the academy and it goes up to $3700-$4100 per month (depending on assignment) upon successful completion of the academy. They max out at $6700 to $7100 per month depending on assignment and this is without overtime. Many are making well over $100,000 per year. I strongly doubt Jason's statements about heath coverage and retirement as well as they don't jive with anything I've seen or heard, and I have been in law enforcement since before Jason was born.
T 22 October 19, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Don't abolish the death penalty based on money. The system needs to be revamped, those that are given the death penalty should not be housed for years before they are finally put to death. Think about it, your child is murdered and the murderer is convicted of first degree with enhancements. It's not about money at that point, it's about justice. You take a life, you give a life whether behind walls for the rest of your natural life or the death penalty. Don't allow the system to put these people back on the street to murder your child.
Jason EHS '99 October 19, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Not talkin bout cdc. I meant county.
Matt October 19, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Why not make the prisoners grow their own food on prison land? Why not make them somewhat support their own existence.
CaWasteWatcher October 19, 2012 at 04:22 PM
So they now have a death row in County? Get your facts straight. As clearly stated by Charles Avery, CA prison guards have one of the most lucrative compensation plans going. If you are expecting a prison guard to show up, when you dial 911, I wish you all the best!
KevWild October 19, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Gawd, it's so simple. Build more prisons. Pay for it with the labor from inmates. As history has shown us, inmates are viable resources. True there are some inmates that are so incorrigible they aren't worth bothering with , but the ones that are useful, be sure to provide privileges and incentives. This is not a new idea. Why can't it be done? You'd think at least one damn governor would pioneer this path and go down in history for doing something with a lasting and huge beneficial effect that everyone will remember.
Shoselyn Novo October 19, 2012 at 05:22 PM
I think they should use them for medical/scientific testing instead of using animals! Or keep rat packing them in the jails and let them kill eachother off! Sorry no sypmathy from me for these crazy people. They are there cruel people not providingng anything good to society but grief and unecessary expenses to the tax payers.
KevWild October 19, 2012 at 05:42 PM
: Oh hell yeah! "I think they should use them for medical/scientific testing instead of using animals! "
T 22 October 19, 2012 at 05:46 PM
Matt & KevWild, I agree with you. There already exists "Prison Industries". They make and sell many items. Different departments within the State of California buys products from them. The whole prison polulation would be better off if the inmates could do hard manual labor. Why not support themselves. Great idea!
Anon October 19, 2012 at 08:39 PM
Give them some kool aid to drink, that will fix it!
Chris Bernstien October 20, 2012 at 10:15 AM
There aren't the claimed savings when balanced against the increased costs of life-time sentences and increased security issues. See http://cadeathpenalty.webs.com and http://voteno34.org/ to get the truth.

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