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New Calif. law would move prison inmates to local jails

April 5, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Under a new law just signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, up to 30,000 low-level offenders would be transferred over three years from state prisons to local jails, once the state finds the money.

The governor 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," Brown said. "After I left the governorship, the next several governors went on a prison building rampage and they lost sight of the management. They lost sight of reducing recidivism and really public safety itself."

Brown had hoped to pay for the transfer program with the renewal of expiring taxes, but that is still being negotiated with Republicans.

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.

There are also questions as to where local and county jails put the extra inmates.

Many are already over-crowded with some, like Los Angeles County, which resorted to early releases in years past to make room for the new inmates.

McDonnell thinks that can happen under Brown'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," he said. "Now there's a concern the actions driven by the budget will jeopardize that."