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Brown's prison plan faces hard questions in Legislature

May 03, 2013|By Paige St. John
  • Gov. Jerry Brown told federal judges he can only propose prison expansions. Sen. Darrell Steinberg, right, said Friday he does not support increasing state prison spending.
Gov. Jerry Brown told federal judges he can only propose prison expansions.… (Bryan Patrick / Sacramento…)

Gov. Jerry Brown's "ugly" proposal to federal judges to partially ease prison crowding by leasing empty jail beds in the state drew dismay from advocates on both sides of the criminal justice debate and a forecast of "dubious prospects" from a legislative leader who objects to the cost.

"I strongly believe any additional taxpayer dollars ought to go into smart strategies to keep people from committing crimes once they’re out," said state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). "I don’t support spending money on contracting for a lot more jail capacity. I do not support the good-time credit option."

Where Brown's plan to the court did draw a sigh of relief was from counties who have so far shouldered most of the burden of the state's prison fixes.

"We also are gratified that the governor and CDCR have recognized that shifting responsibility for more offenders to the county level would have a negative impact on the progress we are already making," said Del Norte County Supervisor David Finigan, president of the California State Assn. of Counties.

Not good enough, said Repubican lawmakers who urge Brown to build more prison space. They still are smarting over the governor's decision last year to relinquish $4.1 billion in borrowing authority authorized to add 13,000 beds at existing state prisons.

Senate Republican leader Robert Huff (R-Diamond Bar) said he applauded Brown "for finally acknowledging the tremendous strain his public safety realignment scheme has placed on counties." However, he said, "I do not understand why he continues to ignore reality with regard to creating new state prison capacity."

Advocates for fewer prisons, and fewer people to go into them, also were disappointed.

"California continues to imprison too many people for far too long, and yet rather than talk at all about front-end sentencing reform, the governor’s proposals only nibble around the edges," said Allen Hopper, director of criminal justice and drug policy for the ACLU of California.

"We need real reforms, like reducing sentences and enhancements for drug offenses, expanding treatment instead of incarceration for drug addicts and further reform of our three-strikes sentencing laws."

paige.stjohn@latimes.com

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