L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, left, and Gov. Jerry Brown chat during the… (Christina House / For The…)
As Los Angeles County faces an influx of state prisoners and Sheriff Lee Baca grapples with scandals in his department, Gov. Jerry Brown made a show of support for the sheriff at a gathering of clergy in South Los Angeles on Saturday.
Brown, a powerful ally of Baca's, is the first sitting governor to appear at his annual multi-faith prayer breakfast, now in its 11th year.
At the gathering, Baca spoke in support of the governor's prison realignment plan and touted his own education programs in the jails, while Brown made a pitch for his proposed tax increase, which will go before voters in November.
Although the revenues would mainly go to public schools, the governor included language to guarantee separate funding to local governments to handle criminals sent to them under his realignment proposal. As many as 40,000 inmates will go to county instead of state facilities under the plan, and nonviolent offenders will be released from the jails to make room.
"We're doing what we can to make sure when people get into trouble, they do get a chance and we don't just spend $50,000 a year [to house each inmate] with no hope," Brown told the assembly.
The breakfast was held at Power of Love Ministries in South Los Angeles, where many of the nonviolent offenders released from county jails under realignment will return. Outside, community members stopped by a job and resource fair with food and clothing giveaways.
Power of Love President Edward R. Turner, director of Baca's clergy council, said he sees the governor's realignment plan as a positive step.
"The community is going to be ecstatic, because you have to understand our people are coming home," he said. "This is where they're from. We're not afraid of them. We love them and we miss them and we want them to come back. But we want them to come back with the necessary tools so they can be who God has intended them to be."
As well as trying to shore up support for realignment, Brown is counting on Baca and other law enforcement officials to help his tax proposal. Earlier this month the governor persuaded the California State Assn. of Counties to endorse his plan. The statewide sheriffs' association has echoed that endorsement.
Baca spokesman Steve Whitmore said the sheriff supports Brown's tax hike but is also pushing for a constitutional amendment that would guarantee long-term realignment funding to local governments.
The sheriff said virtually all nonviolent offenders — as much as half the county jail population — could be eligible for early release but maintained that his department is prepared to handle both the influx of state inmates and the nonviolent offenders who will be released.
"I don't think there's any sheriff's department jail in the state of California that has planned for this shift in a way that we have in Los Angeles," he said. "In view of all the difficulties we have, this is not appearing to be one of them at this point."
The department is dealing with wide-ranging allegations of abuses in the jails and misconduct by deputies.
Across the street from Baca's event, a small group of protesters held up a banner that read, "Stop killer cops." Martin Terrones, with the Southern California Immigration Coalition, said they were there to speak out against brutality in the jails and on the streets and against Baca's support for the Secure Communities program, which shares arrestee information with immigration enforcement officials.
Times staff writer Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this report.