Editorial: Reducing the inmate population

It’s hard to argue with the innate wisdom of spending more on higher education than prisons — and it’s an embarrassment that the state of California has been unable to do so.

For that formula to work, however, the state must find a way to cut prison spending, and one of the most logical ways to do that is by reducing the prison population.

Unfortunately, lawmakers fearful of being branded soft on crime have rejected reasonable proposals to trim the number of inmates — including one that would have allowed elderly and infirm inmates to serve the last year of their sentences under house arrest.

A handful of changes took effect last month, however, that should at least bring about a modest reduction in the prison population, saving an estimated $500 million this year.

Among those steps: Some low-risk offenders will be released on “nonrevocable” parole. In simple language, they will no longer be under the direct supervision of parole agents, though they still would be subject to random police searches.

That new program will reduce the number of parolees returned to prison for minor violations, such as missing a meeting with a parole agent or failing to report a change of address.

An added benefit: It will allow parole agents to concentrate on the more serious offenders.

The impact isn’t huge: Of the 574 parolees in San Luis Obispo County, it’s projected that 107 will be eligible for nonrevocable parole.

Still, this is a step in the right direction, particularly when you consider that California was one of only two states that required every single released inmate to be on supervised parole.

Certainly, it’s a program that must be carefully monitored at regular intervals. If there’s a spike in crimes committed by unsupervised parolees, then it’s time to reassess whether it should continue.

But if California is truly serious about adjusting its priorities and spending more on education than corrections, we should give programs like this one the opportunity to succeed.

Parole conditions

Here are some of the requirements inmates must meet to be eligible for nonrevocable parole:

Did not commit a sexually violent offense

Is not required to register as a sex offender

Was not imprisoned for a serious or violent felony

No serious disciplinary offenses while in prison

Not a gang member or associate

Passed a risk assessment evaluation aimed at identifying those likely to commit new offenses