Governor should consider commuting sentences for medically incapacitated inmates, state auditor says

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Gov. Jerry Brown should consider commuting the sentences of prison inmates who are permanently incapacitated by medical conditions, according to the state auditor, who said Wednesday that releasing them could save tens of millions of dollars.

The proposal by auditor Elaine Howle was one of 10 ideas offered in response to a request by Brown for ways to help trim the state’s $26.6-billion budget shortfall.

Howle made the recommendation a week after The Times reported that despite a change in the law allowing the release of incapacitated inmates, the process has been delayed as prison officials work out the rules for paroling prisoners.


“If releasing these inmates would result in cost savings to the state without compromising public safety, we believe exercising this power may be warranted,” Howle said in a report to Brown.

She noted that the state Constitution gives the governor the power to commute the sentences of prison inmates separately from the normal parole board process.

The governor could reduce the sentences to the amount of time served, which would result in the immediate release of the medically incapacitated inmates, said Luis Patino, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

If the prisoners were released from custody, the medical costs would shift to their families if they could afford to pay, or to other government programs if they could not. The expense of guarding the patients would be eliminated.

Last year, the court-appointed receiver for the prison system identified 32 inmates who are the most likely and immediate candidates for medical parole. The receiver estimated a net first-year savings of about $30 million if they were to be released.

Brown’s office is reviewing the budget proposals by Howle and others, “and will closely consider what steps we can take … to continue to boost efficiency and save taxpayer dollars,” said spokesman Evan Westrup.


Other recommendations by Howle include increasing fines to adjust for inflation, canceling leases for unused office space, slashing the motor pool, better leveraging the state’s buying power and reducing the amount spent to rehire workers who retire.

The state also should review whether some of the 78,000 state employees designated as safety workers have job duties that do not justify the designation, which carries enhanced benefits.