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Gov. Brown evokes threat of inmate prison release to push for ballot measure on parole

Gov. Brown evokes threat of inmate prison release to push for ballot measure on parole
Inmates in a dormitory at a California prison in Chino in early 2013. Federal judges threatened California with court-ordered releases if the state did not reduce crowding to acceptable levels. (Image filed in U.S. District Court briefings)

Evoking the threat of court-ordered prison releases, Gov. Jerry Brown this week appealed for help in collecting signatures to get his parole initiative on the November ballot.

In an email blitz to political supporters, the governor said that "even after significant improvements, the state does not have a durable plan to deal with prison overcrowding" and faces the prospect of a forced release of thousands of inmates.

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Brown is proposing an overhaul of the parole eligibility rules only for inmates sentenced in nonviolent crimes. Felons who earned enough good behavior credits or participated in education programs could be considered for early release by parole boards empowered to set aside sentencing enhancements tacked on for factors like repeat offenses.

The measure — which the governor said would apply to inmates "who turn their lives around" — is currently under legal challenge. But the state Supreme Court has given permission for signature collections to go forward in the meantime.

In practice, the initiative essentially would undo many of the sentencing enhancements added to the penal code by state lawmakers and ballot measures, such as the Three Strikes law, approved by voters.

Brown has spent much of his tenure as governor battling a panel of three federal judges over their orders for California to reduce prison crowding.

The state now meets court-set population caps by sending thousands of inmates to contract prisons. The judges have ordered Brown to come up with a "durable remedy."

In 2011, the governor's prison-realignment act created a drop in the inmate population by having lower-level state felons serve their time in county jails. In 2014, Proposition 47 had a large impact as well by converting crimes involving drug use or minor theft from felonies to misdemeanors.

For more California corrections news, follow me at @paigestjohn on Twitter.

For the latest on political coverage, go to www.latimes.com/politics.

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