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  • RICH PEDRONCELLI / Associated Press

    Bunks fill a cell in a formerly closed unit at Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove that will house inmates under the new realignment program.

  • Gov. Jerry Brown said at a Capitol news conference that the prison system has been "dysfunctional for decades."

Jerry Brown seeks to calm fears on prisoner shift

Published: Friday, Sep. 30, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011 - 11:26 am

Two days before the state starts shifting responsibility for newly convicted, low-level offenders from prisons to county control, Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday sought to assure the public of its safety and local law enforcement officials of ongoing state funding.

"There's no turning back," Brown said. "The only way is forward."

The Democratic governor said at a Capitol news conference that prison realignment is necessary to comply with a court order to reduce prison crowding and to "fix a prison system that has been profoundly dysfunctional for decades."

Matt Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, called the program "one of the largest public safety and statutory changes in California's history."

Brown was joined by law enforcement officials in an appearance meant to blunt criticism on public safety grounds.

"No. 1, no one will be released from state prison early," Cate said. "There's been a lot of misconceptions about that."

Though prison officials said no current prisoner will be released early or transferred to a county jail under the program, some critics fear the increased burden on counties of handling future nonviolent, nonsexual offenders may lead them to release some inmates early.

"Local government will be overwhelmed as more and more convicted criminals are dumped into counties and the promise of new revenue from voter-approved taxes fails to come to fruition," Sen. Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, said in a written statement. "This plan is dangerous. Public safety will be increasingly compromised."

Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin, president of the California State Sheriffs' Association, called realignment a "golden opportunity" to reduce California's high recidivism rate. Like many other local law enforcement officials, however, he is seeking a constitutional amendment to guarantee ongoing funding.

Brown has promised to seek a constitutional amendment next year, but the framework for the amendment remains uncertain. Brown is also expected to ask voters to raise taxes, and it is unclear if the measures will be tied.

"Exactly how we draw it up, that will be determined over the next several months," Brown said.

Yolo County Supervisor Mike McGowan, first vice president of the California State Association of Counties, said local officials throughout the state support a guarantee based on "existing state funds."

Asked if tying tax increases to that guarantee might jeopardize its passage, Brown said, "That's why I haven't outlined a full plan. We're going to get a guarantee, and we're going to do it in the best way we can."

If, after appealing to California voters, "everything turns out, 'No, no, no,'" Brown said, "then we'll regroup, we'll have a press conference … and I'll tell you the austere path that we will follow thereafter."

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