Brown signs prison overcrowding bill

April 5, 2011 7:14:51 PM PDT
Thousands of California prison inmates will soon be living closer to home. It's part of the governor's plan to reduce costs and increase the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. The plan looks good on paper, but critics believe the reality will be much different.

Under the new law Gov. Jerry Brown just signed, up to 30,000 low-level offenders would be transferred over three years from state prisons to local jails once the state finds money. Brown hopes to save taxpayers billions by lowering the number of inmates who return to prison and keeping them closer to their homes where they can get drug treatment and mental health services.

"The prison system has been a failure," said Brown. "After I left the governorship, the next several governors went on a prison building boom and they lost sight of management, they lost sight of reducing recidivism and really, public safety itself."

The governor had hoped to pay for the transfer program with the renewal of expiring taxes, but that is still being negotiated with Republicans, whose party trotted out a Brown caricature, giving him an 'F' for his plans.

While groups of law enforcement support Brown's plan, some are worried. Even after the money is found, no one really knows if locals can handle the extra workload.

"We have real serious concerns about how this is going to play itself out for us at the local levels," said Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell.

And there are questions surrounding capacity. Where will local and county jails put the extra inmates? Many are already overcrowded, with some, like Los Angeles County, resorting to early releases in years past to make room for the new inmates.

Chief McDonnell thinks that can happen under the governor's realignment plan.

"We worked very hard for the last eight years in particular to be able to get the declines in crime that we've seen across the state, and now there is a concern that the actions driven by the budget will jeopardize that," said McDonnell.

The governor is expected to hit the road this month campaign-style, visiting Republican districts in the hopes that constituents there will pressure GOP representatives into supporting a tax vote to pay for things like this prison transfer program.


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