The governor added the controversial prison plan to the state budget after being ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to relieve inmate overcrowding. Now both Republicans and Democrats are sounding the alarm.
Scary-looking thugs and ominous music: state Assembly Republicans began an online video campaign to get Californians outraged over Governor Jerry Brown's prisoner-shift program that began less than three weeks ago. The program lets some low-level offenders serve their time in county jail instead of state prison.
Former Parole Board Chairman and now-Assemblyman Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) is answering critics who say he's trying to scare people with an ad that could be used later against Brown and Democrats.
He says he's simply trying to educate Californians that since there's no room at many county jails for the new prisoners, some will be let go.
"It's bad policy. It's not a scare tactic. It's a statement of fact, and people's lives are at risk," said Nielsen.
Big-city mayors, most of them Democrats, even warned Brown the prisoner shift plan, known as realignment, could be a "brewing public safety crisis" without more funding.
Law enforcement groups point out that a U.S. Supreme Court order is driving this change: California must reduce its prison population by 34,000 over the next two years, or the court could order a wholesale release.
"Is it risky to have the Supreme Court empty the equivalent of three prisons into California cities and counties with no money? Very risky," said Nick Warner, legislative director, Calif. State Sheriff's Association. "There's a lot of opportunity in this model. But it's too soon to say whether it's going to work or not."
A new study by the Public Policy Institute of California, though, concluded Brown's prisoner-shift plan will likely result in low-level offenders spending less time in a cell and an increase in lower-level criminal offenses.
"That's the sort of thing that you expect to see increase, not the really heinous stuff. But on the other hand, it's not inconceivable that something more unpleasant could happen," said Dean Misczynski, adjunct policy fellow, Public Policy Institute of California.
Assembly Republicans also launched a new website called California Crime Watch to keep a tally on possible increased criminal activity.