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Shortened prison sentences, fewer parolees proposed

April 24, 2009 |  4:07 pm

State corrections officials are proposing to make massive budget cuts ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger by reducing the number of ex-convicts on parole by more than 25% and allowing prison inmates to shorten their sentences by completing rehabilitation programs.

The plan, outlined this afternoon by Schwarzenegger’s corrections chief, Matthew Cate, resembles past proposals offered by the department that have met with strong opposition from local law enforcement officials and have ultimately been withdrawn.

But in a concession to those groups, Cate said his agency would propose legislation enabling police to search former prisoners and seize their property without a warrant for at least three years after their release, even if they are not placed on parole.

The plan would reduce the number of parolees monitored by the state by more than 30,000 from the current 114,000. As a result, fewer would also be sent back to prison for parole violations. Together with the additional time off their sentences that inmates could earn by completing programs, state lockups would see an estimated reduction of about 8,000 prisoners, on average, from the initiative.

Even with the cuts, Cate said, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is unlikely to reach the $400 million in spending reductions for the coming fiscal year ordered by the governor when he signed the budget approved by lawmakers in February.

 Cate said other elements of the department’s plan include cuts of up to 200 positions at the agency’s headquarters in Sacramento, about 10% of its workforce there; adjusting upward the dollar value of property crimes needed for them to be prosecuted as a felony, to account for inflation; and using satellite tracking technology on parolees who commit technical violations, such as failing a drug test or missing an appointment, as an alternative to sending them back to prison.

 --Michael Rothfeld