California lawmakers look to free older and younger inmates

To ease overcrowding in state prisons, California lawmakers want to release more of the state’s older prisoners and more of the inmates who were young when they committed their crimes.

The two bills sent to Gov. Jerry Brown in the waning days of the legislative session are the latest attempt to keep the prison population below the cap set by federal judges, with the goal of eventually ending federal oversight.

One requires parole officials to consider whether “age, time served and diminished physical condition” reduced the risk for future violence by older inmates. And the other mandates officials consider whether young people fully understood their actions and if their lack of maturity allowed for a greater chance of rehabilitation.

The measures follow voter-approved early-release efforts in recent years that have reduced penalties for drug and property crimes and, most recently, allowed more sentencing credits that can lead to earlier releases for inmates who complete rehabilitation programs.

Law enforcement agencies and victims’ organizations say the efforts put hardened criminals on the streets and create safety issues for communities. They point to rising crime rates following the earlier initiatives as evidence that once out from behind bars many convicts return to their criminal ways.

“At some point you have to ask, when it is it going to stop?” said California District Attorneys Association legislative director Sean Hoffman.

Supporters of the measures emphasize they do not guarantee parole for anyone and say it makes sense to target the young and old as lawmakers try to unwind decades of get-tough policies that led to unprecedented prison crowding. Many older inmates have health issues that make them extremely costly to house.

“There’s no point of incarcerating someone who’s at the point of death,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego.

Weber’s bill would write into law a 2014 federal court order that requires California to consider releasing inmates age 60 or older who have served at least 25 years. Death row and other no-parole inmates were excluded by the judges, and her bill further excludes cop killers and third-strike career criminals.

Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, mocked the bill when it was debated in the Senate.

“Why not Charles Manson? For heaven’s sake, he’s done a lot of time, he’s really suffered. Poor guy,” Nielsen said.

The 82-year-old Manson, leader of the murderous Manson “family,” is among more than 200…

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