Schwarzenegger to Commute Sentences for Fewer Illegal Immigrant Inmates, Aides Say

Kevin Yamamura, Sacramento Bee, February 24, 2010

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration said Tuesday that the governor will not commute the sentences of thousands of illegal immigrant inmates even though majority Democrats sent him a budget bill this week that assumes he will do so.

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One proposed [state budget] reduction was $182 million in the next fiscal year based on Schwarzenegger commuting the sentences of illegal immigrant inmates and handing them to federal officials for deportation.

That figure is based on an estimate Schwarzenegger gave the Legislature in last year’s budget, assuming the governor would commute the sentences of up to 8,500 noncitizen inmates.

Schwarzenegger officials now say that the previous figure was vastly overstated. They said Tuesday that the governor plans to commute sentences for only 850 illegal immigrants between now and June 2011. His Department of Finance believes the state will save about $19 million rather than $182 million.

As of Dec. 31, the state had 22,173 inmates with an immigration hold or a likely immigration hold–13 percent of all prisoners. The governor is considering for commutation only those with one felony for a nonviolent, nonsexual and nonserious crime.

“As we went through the fall and reviewed the cases, we realized there were a lot more serious and violent offenders in this pool than otherwise had been known,” said Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer.

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