Public Safety & Justice

Former Calif. Lt. Gov. Criticizes State's Prison Policies

In a speech where he hinted at a possible run for governor, former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado called out Gov. Jerry Brown for his handling of prison crowding in the state, calling the policies being pursued an "early release" program.
May 9, 2013

By Paige St. John and Seema Mehta

Saying there is a "pretty good shot" he'll run for governor, former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado on Wednesday kicked off a drive against Gov. Jerry Brown's handling of prison crowding, labeling Brown's policies an "early release" program.

The Republican from Santa Maria, who lost a bid for Congress last year, said he was launching a campaign to repeal the governor's prison policies, implemented in late 2011 to meet court-ordered population limits in state lockups.

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"Today will be the beginning [of the] end of early release," Maldonado declared at a news conference staged on the windy top of a parking garage, a made-for-TV shot of the state Capitol behind him. Beside him was an oversized placard bearing the image of an accused murderer whose case, it turned out, was unrelated to the new corrections law.

Maldonado said he was forming a political committee to gather signatures to put a repeal measure on next year's ballot. He is seeking to capitalize on the controversy over Brown's requirement that counties begin housing lower-level felons and parole violators who in the past would have done that time in prison.

Maldonado acknowledged that he does not have the financial backing for a statewide signature drive. Nor does he have his own plan to address prison crowding, although he said such a plan would probably include construction of new facilities.

That was a strategy pursued by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed Maldonado to the empty lieutenant governor post in 2009. Though the Legislature approved $4.1 billion in borrowing, when Brown took office amid a budget crisis, he canceled most of those planned projects.

The 2011 law that Maldonado denounces is called "realignment" by the Brown administration. In areas where the jails are full, it has led to early releases, though there is no statewide tally of those because county jail reports collected in Sacramento have not been updated since June 2012.

Maldonado blamed Brown, along with the Democratic-controlled Legislature, for what he said was a rise of violent crime in California, though he offered no statistics to support the claim.

"This is the biggest issue -- it threatens the lives of Californians," he told The Times. "This notion of families being afraid to go out on the street, being afraid of parking garages, families who are just afraid.

"The governor uses a fancy word called realignment," Maldonado said. "At the end of the day, it's early release.... A shell game is what it is."

On Wednesday, Maldonado pointed to a larger-than-life police mug of Jerome Anthony Rogers, 57, who is accused of murdering a 76-year-old San Bernardino woman, and recounted Rogers' history of "sodomizing a 14-year-old girl."

Rogers' alleged crime appeared to have little or no connection with realignment. California corrections officials said he was released from state prison in 2000 and finished parole in 2003, eight years before Brown's policy change took effect.

San Bernardino County corrections officials confirmed that Rogers, who has pleaded not guilty to murder in the woman's slaying, had no other criminal record in San Bernardino until December 2012, when he was sentenced to, and served, 13 days in jail for failing to register his address as a transient sex offender. That time behind bars occurred one month after the slaying.

A Maldonado advisor said Wednesday that Rogers' case was touted because "he is a prime example" of the public safety threat created by prison realignment.

"It's people like him who are being released," said the advisor, Jeffrey Corless. He could not specify, however, what about Rogers would put him in that category. Maldonado's event attracted a representative from the Brown administration, corrections department spokesman Jeffrey Callison, who took issue with use of the term "early release." "It's quite simple," Callison said. "There is no early release program called realignment. Realignment is not an early release program. There are no early releases as part of it."

(c)2013 Los Angeles Times

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