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September 1, 2009

The latest prison and sentencing reform news from California

As detailed in this local article, headlined "California Assembly passes prison-cut plan less sweeping than Senate's," the drama surrounding prison and sentencing reform in California continues apace. Here are some of the details of the latest news:

The California Assembly narrowly passed legislation Monday to alter the state's parole system and cut hundreds of millions from prison spending this year, but the plan may be doomed.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has vowed to withhold concurrence until the Assembly acts on even deeper cuts and systemic changes. "The Assembly took a good first step today but it's not a complete package," Steinberg said in a written statement.

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass said she is confident that negotiations in coming days will produce legislation to end the impasse. The Assembly vote, 41-35, came more than a week after the Senate passed a plan that would cut prison spending by about $220 million more than that approved Monday by the lower house.

Both the Assembly and the Senate proposals are designed to reduce caseloads of parole officers from 70-to-1 to 45-to-1, partly by easing supervision of lower-risk offenders who have not committed violent or sexual offenses. Both prison plans also would allow prison inmates to earn up to an additional six weeks in sentencing credits by completing education, vocation or rehabilitation programs in prison.

Under both plans, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would turn over up to 8,500 noncitizen felons to federal authorities for deportation, and some felony probation violators would be housed in county jails or local treatment programs rather than in prisons. Each legislative house vows that its plan would increase public safety by focusing supervision on the most serious offenders.

Republicans oppose both the Assembly and Senate budget-cutting plans, saying that few felons truly are "low risk" and that easing their incarceration or supervision could endanger public safety. "I don't want a state-sanctioned jailbreak in my backyard," said Assemblyman Joel Anderson, R-Alpine. "This is not a bill about being soft on crime," countered Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica. "This is a bill about being smart on crime."

The Senate plan, unlike the Assembly version, calls for creation of an appointed commission to overhaul sentencing guidelines.

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September 1, 2009 at 08:45 AM | Permalink

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