SACRAMENTO — The head of California's troubled, crowded prison system is stepping down to assume leadership of the California State Assn. of Counties.
Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate announced Friday that he would begin his new job Nov. 12. His annual salary will be $288,000.
Association President Mike McGowan, a supervisor from Yolo County, described Cate as someone who "truly understands the current political landscape in California and the integral role of California counties."
At the helm of the Corrections Department since 2008, Cate was the fourth corrections secretary hired by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in five years. After overseeing Schwarzenegger's prison building programs, Cate was retained by Gov. Jerry Brown to preside over a campaign to cut prison spending and ease overcrowding.
Cate's departure comes as the department is laying off employees, as well as involved in sensitive negotiations with a federal receiver over how to reshape prison healthcare in California. It is also facing litigation over its use of segregation cells to indefinitely isolate inmates suspected of prison gang activity.
In a news release issued by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Cate described his two-year tenure under Brown as a "time of tremendous progress," notably cuts in spending and a reduction in the prison population, achieved by shifting responsibility for low-level offenders to California's 58 counties.
"In addition to realignment and the accompanying reforms, we have successfully terminated five class-action lawsuits, overhauled the juvenile justice system, improved CDCR's rehabilitative programs, and are implementing a legislatively approved plan that will further these reforms and reduce over-all prison costs," Cate said.
It now falls on Cate to help counties find ways to cope with the influx of prisoners and parolees resulting from the state's prison realignment program, as well as to lobby the state Legislature for the money to do that.
Cate's last day as prisons chief is Nov. 11, and he takes with him a healthy state pension after 20 years of government service. State payroll data shows his 2011 salary was $215,471.
Cate said he will maintain his position at Stanford Law School as law and policy fellow.
Brown's office had no immediate comment on the search for a successor to run the state's sprawling corrections system, which has 33 prisons, more than 65,000 employees and a $10-billion budget.