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State Senate passes reduced prisons package, $200 million short of savings assumed in budget [Updated]

September 11, 2009 |  6:18 pm

The state Senate this evening relented on a smaller package of cuts in prison spending than it approved three weeks ago, passing and sending Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a bill that falls more than $200 million short of the savings assumed in the state budget.
The measure, SBX3 18, authored by Sen. Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego), would reduce supervision for low-level offenders on parole so that they could not be sent back to prison for violating the terms of their release. And it would allow some offenders to earn shorter terms by completing rehabilitation programs.

Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) called the package “prison lite,” and said she was voting for it though it did not go far enough. It was approved 21 to 15.

The vote was the culmination of weeks of controversy and dispute over how to safely cut the population of the state’s overcrowded prisons to ease budgetary pressure and satisfy a federal court order to reduce the number of inmates.

The Senate, despite fierce opposition from law enforcement, had earlier approved a broader package of cuts that would have reduced the number of inmates by 37,000 over two years, nearly the amount federal judges have demanded. That package would have achieved $525 million of the $1.2 billion in prison cuts authorized in July’s budget deal.

The Schwarzenegger administration planned to make up the difference with administrative actions that require no legislative approval.

The package sent to the governor’s desk this evening, however, is estimated to be more than $200 million short, creating that much red ink for the state.

[Updated 6:45 p.m.: Schwarzenegger will sign the bill, spokeswoman Rachel Cameron said.

“While we are disappointed the Legislature fell short on budgetary savings, the centerpiece of this legislation is the parole reform that protects public safety, avoids early release and saves the state nearly $1 billion,” Cameron said.]
-- Michael Rothfeld and Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento