The Los Angeles Times reports a prison spokeswoman says more than 4,000 of the state's estimated 9,500 female inmates could be eligible for the program, which will help the state meet a court-imposed deadline to relieve overcrowding.
To be eligible, the mothers must have been convicted of non-serious, non-sexual crimes and have two years or less of their sentences left to serve, prisons spokeswoman Dana Toyama said.
The inmates could start going home next week and would have to wear ankle bracelets with GPS tracking and report to parole officers, the Times said.
State prisons Secretary Matthew Cate called the program a "step in breaking the intergenerational cycle of incarceration" and said "family involvement is one of the biggest indicators of an inmate's rehabilitation."
But critics oppose the idea of releasing the mothers.
"If they were such great mothers to begin with, they never would have committed the heinous crime that got them sent to state prison," said Harriet Salarno, founder of Sacramento-based Crime Victims United.
Officials also are considering extending the program to "primary caregivers" for children among the estimated 150,000 male inmates in California, the Times said.
In May, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling that found California's prison overcrowding and the resulting lack of access to medical care amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. The state is trying to meet a deadline to reduce the inmate population by more than 30,000 before July 2013.