Lawmakers told prison release policies up to them, not prisons

Director of Corrections Howard Skolnik told lawmakers Tuesday it's up to them, not him, to decide who they want to release early to reduce prison overcrowding.

AB509 and AB510 are both designed to let more inmates out of prison earlier. The first requires the Parole Board to release certain inmates once they have served their minimum sentences and requires prisoners be paroled to keep the population of the system at or below 95 percent of capacity.

The second would double the rate at which inmates can receive good time credits and do so retroactively back to 1997.

Both would result in immediate relief for the overcrowded prison system but Skolnik told the Assembly Select Committee on Corrections, Parole and Probation it's a policy decision.

"The good thing for us is we will do what you tell us," he said. "But I don't have to face re-election."

Skolnik said because the system already has 13,191 inmates for institutions which have a total capacity of just 11,894, AB509 would result in the immediate release of 1,892 prisoners meaning the system would be down to 95 percent of capacity.

He said most of those would be lesser offenders now considered minimum security inmates.

AB510, he said, would apply "across the board with the exception of those serving life without parole."

"Medium and higher inmates could get out earlier as well," he said.

Skolnik estimated that would release 1,600 inmates immediately and reduce prison population projections by more than 3,800 over the next 10 years.

His Deputy Fritz Schlottman estimated last week AB510 would also reduce the parole and probation caseload by 2,000 inmates immediately.

He emphasized the prisons wouldn't be giving breaks to violent and sexual criminals. He said the logic is that it would apply to inmates who have a decade-long track record of good behavior and are unlikely to commit new crimes.

Lawmakers are looking for ways to reduce both prison construction demands and the growth of its operating budget.

Schlottman said doubling good time credits could eliminate the need to spend $60 million this session on modular prison units to hold about 1,000 inmates as well as the cost of managing and caring for them.

The committee took no action on either bill.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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