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Two men, two plans to reduce California's inmate population

Flickr user Neon Tommy

California has just six months left to meet a federal court deadline to reduce its adult prison population from 156,000 inmates to 109,000 – in a prison system designed to hold just 80,000 people. The state is not there yet, and it might not meet that deadline. Last week, Governor Jerry Brown said the state's prison crisis is over and he wants the federal court out of the system.

But even after diverting low-level offenders to county jails, the state still expects to be 9,000 inmates over the cap by the June 2013 deadline. The Governor said he could ease overcrowding another way – by freeing inmates convicted of serious or violent crimes.

James Austin, President of the nonprofit JFA Institute and an expert in correctional planning and research, thinks there’s another option. He was hired to draft a plan to help the state meet its goal. He spoke with KALW’s Nancy Mullane to go over his plan that would not only reduce the state’s prison population, but also lower crime rates and save thousands of taxpayer dollars.

JAMES AUSTIN: The plan is basically to lower the percentage of time served that inmates are sentenced for and to also provide incentives for them to participate in programs which will reduce our recidivism rates. If you do those two things, we can easily hit the target set by the federal court. 

Click the audio player above to listen to the complete conversation.

Nancy Mullane develops, reports, and produces feature stories for This American Life, National Public Radio, and KALW. She is the author of the book Life After Murder: Five Men in Search of Redemption.