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High court's ruling could lead to prison overhaul

Associated Press | 6/1/2011, 12:58 a.m.

“California will be an example of how not to do things,” he said, citing the costs of the state’s three-strikes laws and other tough crackdowns. “We’re uncomfortable with courts taking matters into their own hands, but it does provide an impetus for states to get out in front of the process.”

Ohio’s prison officials hope to use the ruling to convince lawmakers to support a measure backed by Republican Gov. John Kasich that would allow non-violent criminals to serve time in community-based centers instead of state prisons.

The state’s inmate population is at 132 percent capacity and expected to add 3,000 more inmates by 2015, said Ohio prison system spokesman Carlo LoParo. Enacting the reform, which is pending in the state Senate, could save Ohio more than $78 million a year and reduce the need for several thousand prison beds, he said.

“We would rather have these offenders under sanctions and supervision on our terms, than have to release them under a court order,” LoParo said.

In California, the decision doesn’t mean the state is releasing a flood of inmates onto the streets. Shorter term inmates will leave prison before the court’s deadline expires and some low-level offenders will be diverted to local jails under the plan.

Some experts say other states should heed California as a warning and act while they still can.

The ruling is a chance for the states to shift prison spending toward better supervision of those on probation and parole, said Mark Kleiman, a UCLA public policy professor who specializes in drug-control policy and the criminal justice system.

“If they don’t want the federal courts messing with their prisons, then run decent prisons. This isn’t rocket science,” he said. “Your mother told you that if you didn’t play with your toys properly, she’d take them away. And that’s what they did.”

Associated Press writer Ann Sanner in Columbus, Ohio contributed to this report.