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Sounding Off: Budget cuts corners on safety

And they say we have a “budget deal"?

Just this week the governor and the legislative leaders announced they have a deal on the budget. Now, as details come to light it appears it isn’t going to be the best deal for Californians. I realize any fix to our $26-billion budget deficit is going to include tough choices, but one of them cannot be releasing prisoners onto our streets.

There is a plan emerging that calls for cutting the prison budget by $1.2 billion partly by reducing the prison population by 27,000 inmates. I believe this policy would endanger the public, and I will not support it. Dumping prisoners on our streets to meet a budget goal is a terrible idea and does not deserve any support.

Gov. Schwarzenegger has already been on record saying he wants to reduce the prison population. His plan includes a variety of proposals such as keeping parolees out of prison by not forcing them to return for low level offenses, sentencing credits, raising the threshold for property crimes, and releasing low-level undocumented offenders into federal custody. All of these criminals will have to go somewhere. That somewhere is right back into our communities "” many with little to no law enforcement supervision.

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While the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation claims these prisoners are not at high-risk to re-offend, the statistics suggest otherwise. Seventy percent of those felons will be back in prison within three years. The average felon will have committed 13 new crimes before being caught; although that was before local police budgets were slashed. One in five of the so-called non-violent felons dumped will be re-arrested on a violent felony. A combination of bad economy and stalled budget negotiations is no excuse for giving crooks a “get out of jail free" card.

Slowing government growth and reducing state spending are essential to balancing our budget but cuts to public safety are not the answer. They threaten the safety of our citizens by putting more criminals on the street and reducing the ability of law enforcement to protect us. There is plenty we can and should do before recklessly releasing convicts into our communities in the interest of saving a buck. I will be watching this matter closely.


TOM HARMAN represents the 35th State Senatorial District, which includes Laguna Beach.


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