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CALIFORNIA

Brown eases inmate plan

Local governments oppose shifting costs for some prisoners and parolees to them.

March 01, 2011|Shane Goldmacher

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown backed away Monday from a controversial plan to shift responsibility for managing certain prisoners and parolees to local governments.

Administration officials, testifying before the Legislature's joint budget committee, said Brown scaled back his proposal after law enforcement groups and municipalities loudly condemned his initial plan.

Local officials had said their jails are already overcrowded, and they had too few parole agents to monitor more ex-convicts. Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley had said that the original proposal endangered public safety.

In response, Brown downsized the plan. He stripped dozens of crimes from the list of offenses that would cause an inmate to be housed in local jails rather than state lockups. And he shrank sharply the number of added cases that local parole agents must manage.

"We tried to, in the public safety area, listen to law enforcement and some of the concerns they had," testified Diane Cummins, a consultant to Brown on local government issues.

Monday's announcement marked the first major public concession that Brown has made on criticism of his spending plan, which must close a deficit of more than $25 billion.

Ryan Alsop, a spokesman for Los Angeles County's chief executive's office, hailed the changes as "a great gesture from the administration."

"It shows they are willing to listen," he said.

Brown has set a March 10 deadline for lawmakers to send him a final spending plan. He wants it to include a measure for the ballot so voters can weigh in on an extension of billions of dollars in temporary tax hikes. The compromises announced Monday came as Brown struggles to wrangle votes for his plan in the Legislature.

The revised plan reduces the number of parolees that Brown initially wanted counties to supervise by 80,000 and the number of offenders they would have to incarcerate by 8,000, said Todd Jerue, a Department of Finance analyst. The new proposal also scales back the plan to shift firefighting responsibilities to local governments. And it provides more money for municipalities to provide mental health, foster care and child abuse services.

All told, Brown has proposed to transfer money and responsibility for nearly $6 billion in state programs to local governments in the coming budget. It is a linchpin of his campaign promise to bring government "closer to the people," and he hopes to use the changes to persuade the public to support more taxes to balance the budget. Despite the concessions, Brown's budget still has received the blessing of few Los Angeles officials.

"There's still a heck of a lot of work that needs to be done," Alsop said.

Cooley, who was briefed on the changes by California's top prison official, said in a statement that he still did not have enough information to "offer an opinion."

Brown will have an opportunity to press the case for his budget in Anaheim on Tuesday in a speech to the California Police Chiefs Assn.

shane.goldmacher@latimes.com

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