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Newsom sent a revised budget to state lawmakers this week that envisioned closing two state prisons in the coming years and eventually closing all three state-run juvenile prisons.
FILE: Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses his revised state budget proposal during a news conference at the CalFire/Cameron Park Fire Station in Cameron Park, Calif.
The Democratic governor is also seeking unspecified increases to sentencing credits that allow inmates to leave prison more quickly. And he proposes to shorten parole to a maximum of two years, down from five years for felonies, and let ex-felons earn their way off supervision in just a year, or 18 months for sex offenders.
The proposals drew support from reformers. Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice Executive Director Daniel Macallair hailed the long-sought shift.
“To reduce the number of people in confinement, we need to reduce the institutions of confinement,” Macallair said.
But county officials called the new plan unworkable, pointing out that similar proposals have failed before.
Brian Richart, president of Chief Probation Officers of California, said those sent to state facilities “have the most serious needs, which if left unaddressed, pose the most serious risk to our communities.”
Newsom said in January he planned to close a single unspecified adult prison sometime in the next five years. With earlier releases often predicated on inmates participating in rehabilitation programs, his revised plan seeks to close one of the state’s 34 prisons by mid-2022 and a second a year later, eventually saving $400 million annually.
State Sen. John Moorlach, an accountant and the ranking Republican on two corrections oversight committees, welcomed the savings but said it might be even cheaper to use more private prisons, something the state has committed to ending. Prisons are often remote communities’ major employer, he cautioned, saying the governor is also imperiling unionized prison employees.
Crime Victims Alliance Director Christine Ward fears the state will reach a tipping point if more criminals are on the streets as the governor proposes cutting parole and probation programs.
“We’re not talking about your small-time drug dealer. We’re talking about the most serious and violent felons in our state. That’s what’s left in our prisons,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.