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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / GOVERNOR : Wilson Talks Tough on Crime to D.A.s; Brown Raps Parole Policy : Democrat says parole violators have increased dramatically because of a relaxation of revocation standards. Governor aides say it is because there are more parolees in the system.

July 26, 1994|BILL STALL and AMY WALLACE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Gov. Pete Wilson preached his tough-on-crime sermon to a largely faithful choir of prosecutors Monday while Democratic challenger Kathleen Brown hammered away at an apparent chink in his law enforcement shield--the parole system.

Later Monday, the Wilson campaign announced that it would begin airing a new television commercial today "specifically refuting" Brown's allegations that dangerous parole violators continue to walk the streets because of a relaxation by the Wilson Administration of parole revocation policies.

However, most of the newspaper articles quoted by the Wilson ad referred to just one case that was the subject of a Brown attack on Wilson last March. The Wilson ad goes on to attack Brown for her personal opposition to the death penalty without saying that she also has pledged to enforce it if elected governor.

Monday morning, Wilson appeared officially as governor in addressing the California District Attorneys Assn. at a hotel ballroom in Newport Beach on the need to get tougher on "career criminals" to make California streets safe again.

Wilson announced that he will join law enforcement officials, crime victims and others in a rally on the state Capitol steps in Sacramento on Aug. 8, the day the Legislature returns from its summer recess. The idea is to put pressure on lawmakers to pass additional anti-crime legislation such as extending the death penalty to fatal drive-by shootings and carjacking slayings, Wilson said.

Then, as a campaigner for reelection, Wilson went to a third-floor meeting room to receive the endorsement of 33 of the state's 58 criminal prosecutors, including association President Edward Hunt of Fresno County. Hunt called Wilson "a true friend to law enforcement."

The endorsements were made individually because the association does not support or oppose candidates as a group.

At the same time, candidate Brown held a news conference in Downtown Los Angeles to assail Wilson's parole policies.

Standing in front of a state building that houses offices of the state Department of Corrections, the state treasurer said that since Wilson became governor, the number of parolees "at large" in California has grown from about 9,000 to about 14,000. So-called at-large parolees are former convicts who are violating parole by failing to maintain contact with their parole officers and are, Brown argued, "lost on the streets of California."

They are "lost," she said, because of Wilson's cuts in the parole division budget, resulting in a 60% increase in each parole officer's caseload. In Los Angeles County, Brown said, the budget cuts led to a reduction of 200 parole officers who had been tracking felons.

"No wonder Californians don't feel safer today than they did four years ago," Brown said.

Brown added: "When I'm governor, I'm gonna trail 'em. We're gonna nail 'em, and then, we're gonna jail 'em. . . . We can't allow 14,000 dangerous fugitives to roam free in our neighborhoods, near our schools and in our communities."

Wilson campaign aides did not dispute the 14,000 figure, other than to note that there are far more parolees in the system now than before he became governor: nearly 80,000 compared to 38,515 on average during the eight years Republican George Deukmejian was chief executive. This is largely the result of overall growth in the prison population.

On a percentage basis, the number of parolees at large has declined from an average annual figure of 14% of the total to 12.1%, the Wilson campaign said.

The average sounds good, Brown responded, but she said a more telling statistic is the fact that the number of parolees at large jumped 56% from 1992 to June, 1994, after the $32-million budget cut in the parole division.

Wilson had a different view in his speech to the district attorneys, telling them: "With your help, we've made great progress in Sacramento to make our state safer. We've won a lot of victories this past year."

They include passage of the "three strikes and you're out" law that mandates a life prison term for people convicted of three felonies, he said. Wilson said the law was part of his drive to make "career criminals career inmates."

"That's why I fought for the toughest 'three strikes' law possible and signed it into law in March," Wilson said. "I know that you and I are agreed on the fact that career criminals should be put away for a long time."

In fact, the district attorneys organization did not support the same "three strikes" bill backed by Wilson, but favored another measure that would have limited the automatic life terms to cases involving violent or serious felonies.

The Wilson television commercial going on the air today says that a recent Brown ad "reaches a new low, with the press calling it 'misleading' and 'a bum rap.' " Those words were used by the Sacramento Bee and the San Jose Mercury News in editorials defending Wilson's parole program.

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