The state’s proposal for prisoner reduction, due by midnight Friday, will likely include the commutation of sentences for an undetermined number of undocumented inmates who will then be referred to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement for deportation, according to Natasha Minsker, the death penalty policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. This is an option Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has mentioned over the past months.
Mission Loc@l reported earlier that there are “19,000 prisoners who are undocumented felons.”
It is unclear where the state gets that figure, said Angie Junck, staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco.
“Based on work that I do … I see that many people that they might be counting as undocumented are actually lawful permanent residents who have been here since a very young age,” said Junck.
“When the three-judge panel ruling first came down there were several things that we had talked about as potential solutions to addressing overcrowding which included the commuting of sentences for illegals,” said Gordon Hinkle, deputy press secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, on Thursday.
Hinkle declined to be more specific, but said they would meet the judge’s order.
Officials on both sides, however, said the plan is expected to come well short of the judges’ court order that gave the state 45 days to devise a two-year plan for reducing its prison population to 137.5 percent of its designed capacity of roughly 80,000. Present population figures provided by the department of corrections are nearly twice that.
The state’s proposal is in conjunction with the bill that the state legislature passed last week, which focused on cutting costs by revamping the parole system.
The bill addressed only part of the roughly $1 billion in cuts to the department, according to Paul Golaszewski of the Legislative Analyst’s Office.
“Some of the savings are going to be done administratively and don’t require legislation,” said Golaszewski.
Under state law, the governor has the authority to deport undocumented immigrants with first-time felony convictions without requiring legislative approval.
The judges’ demands raise concerns for many immigrations and civil rights advocates that the state will respond by hastily handing over for detention thousands of undocumented immigrants within the prison system to an overtaxed federal immigrations system.
“We’ve seen nothing explained as to how this would really work,” said Minsker. “From what we’ve heard from ICE about their efforts across the country, we know that they’re already overwhelmed with deporting people. … So, we’re really dubious about the plan and really do want to know some details.”
Few details are being provided by the state until the proposal is given to the judges on Friday.
The ACLU of Northern California filed a public records request Thursday to Matthew Cate, secretary of the Department of Corrections.
The letter requests a copy of all records pertaining to the proposed commutation of sentences, or the transfer of immigrant inmates within the corrections department.
Many of the disagreements over the issue of immigrant inmates’ rights lie in the complexity of immigration law, said Junck.
“With whatever policy comes up around prisons and immigrants there is a fundamental misunderstanding with how the federal deportation process works,” said Junck. “Some of these people, if they decide to fight, are going to be in detention for four or five years.”
The corrections department feels that California should be in control of its own destiny when it comes to deciding what’s best for its own prison population, said Hinkle.
In the meantime, amidst their appeals to the Supreme Court, the state must still submit a proposal to avoid being held in contempt.
“We realize our obligation to now meet the court order and share what we think is the viable way to approach the problem of overcrowding in the state of California,” said Hinkle.