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Crime Victims United challenges early release bill in court

by Wes Messamore, published

California's new early release program, authorized by Senate Bill 18, will result in the early release of over 6,000 prison inmates classified as "low-risk" offenders. Proponents argue that the new program will save the state hundreds of millions, but it still raises the perennial question when it comes to the state's prison policy: how safe is safe enough for Californians?

Crime Victims United, an advocacy group for the victims of violent crime, has filed a lawsuit against both the governor and the California Department of Corrections, arguing that the early release program is unconstitutional.

In 2008, voters passed Proposition 9, a victims bill of rights also referred to as "Marsy's Law," which amended California's constitution to prohibit the early release of inmates by legislative or executive order to alleviate prison overcrowding. So under California's constitution, a court's sentencing cannot be "substantially diminished" by public policymakers.

Opponents of the new early release program also say it is just bad public policy. Nina Salarno, of Crime Victims United of California, disagrees with the state's classification of "low-risk" offenders: "Domestic abuse is considered non-violent, child abuse, elder abuse- physical child abuse, is considered non-violent. Manslaughter is considered non-violent in the state of California."

It's not hard to see why some Californians just don't feel safe with the new early release program, barely a month after John Gardner raped and murdered 17 year old Chelsea King because he was out on parole. Despite seven parole violations and a predatory past (he was originally incarcerated for assaulting a 13 year old girl), Gardner was released onto San Diego's streets where he committed more violent crime.

But proponents of California's early release program believe it takes the necessary precautions to keep residents safe. The California Department of Corrections told News 8 that "inmates will have to earn an early release by completing rehabilitation program that reduce sentences up to six weeks a year. They say fewer inmates means more resources to watch violent parolees." The department seems to suggest that the program will actually help save the state money and make Californians more safe.

Is the new early release bill constitutional? Will it actually make California more safe? Or is the state gambling with innocent lives to save money?

What do you think?

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