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California Prison System Reluctantly Consents to Prison Worker Early Release

The state of California, under pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice and singled out by the U.S. Supreme Court for endemic overcrowding in its prison system, still had to be compelled to do the right thing for its incarcerated, low-wage prison workers.  California, who offers a day for day sentence credit for minimum-custody  prisoners who work in the prison-system labor force for from 8 to 37 cents an hour, and a 2 for 1 sentence credit for its sizable number of prisoner-firefighters, balked at an extension of that same 2 for 1 credit to the rest of its prison work force.

The reason? A cynical calculation by allegedly pro-labor, socially-conscious,  left-of-center California Governor Jerry Brown that the state would lose the $1 billion savings the state reaps from using its "captive" work force if it implemented the court's recommendations, since inmate firefighters might not be motivated to do the highly-dangerous firefighting work.

A three-judge federal court panel had ordered the state to offer the 2 for 1 sentence credit as part of a settlement to permit it to receive a two-year extension of requirements to lower its prisoner count. This settlement exposed how California and many other states would apparently rather extend prison sentences to maintain its work force than permit prisoners to rehabilitate themselves in prison and at the same time reduce their sentences.

Plaintiffs who opposed the state foot-dragging on implementation of 2 for 1 for all prison workers commented, "Defendants baldly assert that if the labor pool for their garage, garbage, and city park crews is reduced, than (California Department of Corrections) would be forced to draw-down its fire camp population to fill these vital...positions.  That is a red herring; Defendants would not be 'forced' to do anything.  They could hire public employees to perform tasks like garbage collection, garage work and recycling..."

Sources: "California Tells Court It Can't Release Inmates Early Because It Would Lose Cheap Prison Labor," by Nicole Flatlow,, November 17, 2014;  "California agrees to let prison laborers leave early," by Paige St. John,, December 12, 2014.

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