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Backlash prompts Brown to alter realignment plan

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March 1, 2011 | Leave Comment

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown altered his proposal to realign certain state and local government responsibilities Monday after criticism from local law enforcement authorities but still expects substantial savings in the years ahead if the Legislature approves the plan.

The state would continue to oversee more dangerous parolees and juvenile offenders rather than having them placed in county jails or monitored by local officials, aides to the Democratic governor said. Under the administration’s revised plan, counties would focus on handling lower-risk offenders and parolees.

Pushing some corrections and law enforcement-related functions to local governments was one way Brown sought to save money as California faces a $26.6 billion deficit.

In exchange for the state incarcerating and supervising more inmates than under his original plan, Brown proposed that the state would provide counties with less money for other programs. Those would include counseling for rape victims, assessing the potential for certain inmates to be sexually violent offenders and training for some local law enforcement officers.

Most convicts who are not sex offenders or are considered nonserious offenders and nonviolent would be housed in county jails, as Brown proposed in his January budget.

The administration also agreed to pay counties more money for housing inmates who will serve more than three years in local jails.

Counties would be responsible for supervising nonviolent offenders after their release from custody. But under Brown’s revised plan, the state would continue to supervise high-risk sex offenders, those who completed serving a sentence for a serious or violent crime and those with a third “strike,” or conviction.

For example, the state now supervises parolees who had served time for such offenses as petty theft with a prior conviction, drug possession, grand theft and fraud. Under Brown’s government realignment, that responsibility would shift to county probation officers.

However, the administration’s revised plan addresses the concerns of law enforcement officials by ensuring that more serious crimes would merit incarceration in state prisons and parolee supervision by state parole agents. Those crimes include solicitation for murder, felony child abuse, felony domestic violence assault on a peace officer and human trafficking

Brown’s revised plan also would let counties contract with the California Division of Juvenile Justice to handle violent youth. His January budget proposed eliminating the division altogether.

“I do think we try to listen to law enforcement and the concerns that they had,” Brown’s special budget adviser, Diane Cummins, told a legislative conference committee on Monday. “I think this should make them more comfortable.”

Even with the changes, the administration says its latest realignment proposal will save $2 billion once it is fully implemented in four years and reduce the prison population by 38,000 inmates — the estimated number of lower-level offenders the state hopes to transfer to county jurisdiction. The proposals would affect only offenders convicted after the budget takes effect. Current inmates and parolees would remain under the state’s supervision.

The full savings would come only if the state reduces its inmate population enough to close some prisons, said Todd Jerue, a program manager with the state Department of Finance.

That, however, could be affected by a pending U.S. Supreme Court decision over whether the state must reduce prison crowding to improve medical and mental health treatment for inmates. Closing some prisons to save money would leave others more crowded, potentially putting the state in conflict with the federal court receiver who is overseeing inmate medical care.

“We think it’s markedly better than the original plan,” said Nick Warner, spokesman for the California State Sheriffs’ Association. “We appreciate the governor listening to the concerns from local public safety, from sheriffs, and we intend to take a more formal position in coming days.”

Karen Pank, spokeswoman for the Chief Probation Officers Association of California, said her organization supports the revised plan in concept. In a letter to Brown, her association similarly asked that funding for counties be guaranteed.

The Associated Press

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