A statewide proposition aimed at expanding victims’ rights – and named after a murdered UCSB student – may actually exacerbate Santa Barbara County Jail’s overcrowding problem.

Proposition 9, which will appear on the November ballot,
is in essence an attempt to write a Victim’s Bill of Rights into the California State Constitution. In doing so, Prop 9 would reduce the number of parole hearings for inmates serving life sentences, require that restitution be paid to victims and let victims keep testimony secret from defendants.

In addition, Marsy’s Law – which takes its name from a UCSB student slain in the early ’80s – would prohibit counties from releasing inmates early due to jail overcrowding.

For Santa Barbara and other counties in California that face the problem of too many inmates and not enough beds, the demand of Prop 9 could prove challenging.

In 2007, Santa Barbara County had to release 1,800 inmates early as a result of overcrowding. On any given night last year, 10 to 20 prisoners were forced to sleep on the ground in Santa Barbara County Jail due to lack of space.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said an inmate with a 60-day sentence might end up in jail for only 12 days due to a series of early release policies in times of jail overcrowding.

“We have a tremendous problem with overcrowding and have had to early release for years now,” Brown said. “It has become routine for us to release inmates as much as 21 days early … We have a provision that allows me – as Sheriff – to release inmates early when the jail is overcrowded, which it always is.”

Early releases are customary across the state as well. According to the Legislative Analyst Office, California’s 58 counties spend over $2.4 billion on county jails, which have a population in excess of 80,000.

Twenty of these counties have established population caps, which often leads to the early release of inmates.

Brown said that the fiscal impact of Prop 9 remains uncertain for the individual counties that release inmates before they have served their full sentence.

“Although some counties release inmates early from jail, the overall cost of this provision for counties is unknown,” he said. “This would depend on how potential legal issues surrounding the early release restrictions are resolved and how counties comply with them.”

Brown said that despite the possible difficulties associated with the Prop 9, victims’ rights remain a crucial issue.

“I firmly believe victims should be better represented and have a voice in the criminal justice system,” Brown said. “And those people who commit serious crimes should be held accountable.”