California Mothers in Prison May be Going Home Soon


A Sept. 12 press release from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announces that part of the Supreme Court-mandated slimming down of California's corpulent prison population will involve something called the Alternative Custody Program.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

Mothers who were convicted of non-serious, non-sexual crimes — and have two years or less remaining on their sentences — could start going home as early as next week, prisons spokeswoman Dana Toyama said. The women would be required to wear GPS-enabled ankle bracelets and report to parole officers.

CDCR spokesperson Dana Toyama also told Reason that "this is not an early release program, it's an alternative custody program" meaning that the women's freedom can be revoked at any time for the remainder of their original sentence.

Sadly, men -- 90 percent of the 143,435-strong inmate population of California -- are not yet eligible. There are no concrete plans to include them any time soon, though the phrasing in the bill outlining the policy was changed from "mothers" to the constitutionally-sound gender-neutral "primary caregiver."

But for the moment, almost half the state's female population could be on the tentative road to freedom after individual review of their cases. 

The L.A. Times notes some restrictions:

Any conviction for a violent or sexual felony, or for any crime involving child abuse, would disqualify an inmate from taking part in the program. An escape attempt in the last 10 years, gang membership or an active restraining order also would rule an inmate out, state officials said.

 And some obligitory objections:

"If they were such great mothers to begin with, they never would have committed the heinous crime that got them sent to state prison," said Harriet Salarno, founder of Sacramento-based Crime Victims United. In many cases, the children might be better off in foster care, Salarno said.

The CDCR's research says, by the way, that 27.2 percent of female inmates in California were there for drug offenses in 2008 (down from a high of 43 percent in 1999.) Toyama said the women eligible will be ones who committed "victimless crimes" and who are "low-level offenders, mothers who want to get back to their families."

After October first, she added, this may be "a moot point" since low-level offenders will soon be "realigned" to county jails anyway. Inmates eligible for this program will have to have been sentenced before that date.

It's estimated by CDCR that the program could save California about $6 million.

Steve Chapman on the original Supreme Court decision. Reason's July "Criminal Injustice" issue.