Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Gov. Jerry Brown defended his plan to redirect tens of thousands of lower-level criminals from state prison to county jails before a gathering Wednesday of hundreds of law enforcement and local government officials, many of whom are worried they will not be ready when the change takes effect in less than two weeks.
The policy shift starts Oct. 1 and is intended to help California save money and comply with a federal court order to reduce its prison population. The Democratic governor said local governments can do the job safely without releasing dangerous criminals into the community.
"This is a bold step. It's an important step. It's long overdue," Brown told nearly 500 sheriffs, prosecutors, police chiefs and probation officers.
He said various commissions and reports over the years have urged just such a realignment of public safety, partly to save money and partly as a way to increase services to inmates and reduce the number who commit new crimes and return to prison.
"Lots of people, lots of academics, have been saying, 'Change this darn thing,' and that's what we're doing," Brown said.
Several law enforcement and local government officials attending the Sacramento conference called on the state to guarantee the long-term funding they say counties will need to make the shift work. Brown promised, as he has before, to do "whatever it takes" to guarantee the money through a constitutional amendment. He wants to place the measure before voters in November 2012.
The law Brown signed in April was prompted by the state's fiscal problems and by a federal court ruling requiring the state to reduce the population of its adult prisons as way to improve inmate medical care.
The shift will not mean a release of current state inmates. Rather, lower-level offenders convicted after Oct. 1 will serve their time in county jails or alternative programs instead of being sent to state prison.
The offenders who will be redirected to county jails must have been convicted of crimes that are considered non-violent and non-serious, such as property, white collar and drug offenses. Those convicted of sexual offenses also are not eligible.
Additionally, most ex-convicts on parole will be monitored by county parole offices rather than state agents.