California lawmakers approve medical parole for county jail inmates
With county jails packed to bursting throughout California, state lawmakers gave final legislative approval Thursday to a measure allowing inmates to be released early if they are medically incapacitated.
The "compassionate release" bill sent to the governor was requested by Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and was modeled after a state program that releases inmates from prison if they are deemed to be so ill or injured that they are not a threat to public safety.
In some cases patients are confined to a bed, including some in a coma or dependent on a respirator, and require special accommodations where guards stand next to their hospital bed.
"We should not be squandering scarce public dollars on guarding low-level offenders who are so severely incapacitated that they require around-the-clock medical care," said Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who wrote SB 1462.
The bill allows a sheriff to give medical parole to an inmate if a doctor determines the person is physically incapacitated and does not pose a risk to society. Those eligible for release include inmates who are thought to have six months or fewer left to live. A legislative analysis estimates as few as 30 inmates may be eligible per year.
The measure was opposed by the California District Attorneys Assn. and Crime Victims United of California, with the latter group concerned that victims and their families will not have a voice in the release decision. "The push to continually reduce sentences is unfair to victims and the broader public who expect accountability for an offender's actions," the group said in a letter to lawmakers.
-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento
Photo: The Los Angeles County Jail system includes the North Facility of the Pitchess Jail in Castaic. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times.