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Calif. Assembly Speaker Postpones Vote on Prisons

California State Capitol
Justin Sullivan
California State Capitol

California's Assembly speaker postponed a vote Monday as she tries to line up enough votes on a controversial plan to trim the state's inmate population to save $1 billion.

Speaker Karen Bass already had stripped out the most contentious provisions from a bill that passed the state Senate last week. The Los Angeles Democrat said the Senate-approved version doesn't have enough votes to pass in her chamber.

"When we arrive at a responsible plan that can earn the support of the majority of the Assembly and makes sense to the people of California, we will take that bill up on the Assembly floor," she said.

The version approved by Senate Democrats, with the support of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, would have cut the state's prison population by about 27,000 in the first year and saved $1.2 billion.

The cut was included in a deficit reduction plan legislators approved last month, but they left the details until they returned from their summer recess last week.

The Assembly version would leave about 10,000 more inmates behind bars and create a new, nearly $200 million budget hole.

Bass removed a portion that would change several property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and keep those offenders out of prison.

She also rejected a plan to allow home detention with electronic monitoring for inmates who are over 60, medically incapacitated or have less than 12 months to serve on their sentences.

The Assembly plan would let inmates earn up to four months of early release credits for completing rehabilitation programs, up from six weeks in the Senate version.

It also would change the makeup of a proposed sentencing commission to stop an ex-felon from serving as a nonvoting member and to give law enforcement representatives a controlling role in setting California's criminal justice policy.

The changes were designed to mute opposition from associations representing prosecutors and police chiefs, Bass said. But they drew new protests from prison reform groups including the Drug Policy Alliance and Taxpayers for Improving Public Safety, which argued the commission would be tilted toward get-tough sentencing policies.

The shift "turns this bill into a stinker - a cop-controlled sentencing commission," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Bass said discussions are continuing with law enforcement and other officials to craft a revised plan to increase public safety, improve the effectiveness of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and reduce state budget costs.

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