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Brown's choice for prisons chief is sentencing reform advocate

December 19, 2012 |  1:32 pm

Beard-Jeffrey

Gov. Jerry Brown's pick for prisons chief is a vocal advocate of alternative sentencing laws that move non-serious criminals into community treatment programs rather than state lockup.

Brown's choice for Corrections Secretary is Jeff Beard, who retired in 2010 after a little more than nine years as head of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. 

In the 32 years Beard worked in Pennsylvania's prison system, its inmate population soared more than 500%, from 8,000 inmates to more than 52,000. As an administrator, Beard personally oversaw massive prison building programs, including the addition of 32,000 inmate beds.

But under Democratic Gov. Edward Rendell, Beard pushed for alternative sentencing, treatment courts and diversion programs for less-serious offenders.  

Beard lent support to 2008 prison legislation that aimed to reduce county jail crowding by sending felons serving more than two years to state prison, but allowed for medical release and early release of nonviolent offenders who complete treatment and education programs.  

Beard is not shy about voicing opinions on where the criminal justice system fails. He told Pennsylvania lawmakers that heavy reliance on incarceration of low-level offenders “has proven to have limited value in maintaining public safety.”

In a 2005 commentary, Beard called on the corrections community to “rethink who really belongs in prison.” He sought an end to popular “scared straight” programs he said actually increase the likelihood released inmates will commit future crimes. “We must have the will to put an end to feel-good and/or publicly popular programs that simply do not work,” Beard wrote.

A spokeswoman for California's corrections department said she did not know when Beard would start his new job in this state. The post requires confirmation by the California Senate.

ALSO:

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Sanchez dances close to fiscal cliff on holiday card

Governor appoints new leader for California's troubled prison system

-- Paige St. John in Sacramento

Image: California's new Corrections Secretary, Jeff Beard. Photo provided by Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

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