California Assembly passes measure to cut prison costs

SACRAMENTO — After more than a week of closed-door negotiations, California's state Assembly Monday afternoon approved a pared-down plan for cutting prison spending.

Assembly Democrats mustered the bare minimum majority vote for the measure, and it passed 41-35. It remains at odds with a measure passed by the Senate and supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The plan, coupled with gubernatorial actions, would reduce prison spending by about $1 billion, roughly $220 million less than the amount required under the deal reached in July to cure the state's massive budget shortfall.

The Assembly plan eliminates several key elements of the Senate plan, however, including provisions that would eliminate the possibility of charging offenders with a felony for three so-called "wobbler" crimes: writing bad checks, receiving stolen property, or petty theft with a prior conviction.

The Assembly version also stripped out Senate-approved porovisions that would have created a commission to overhaul sentencing guidelines and to adopt an alternative custody program that could release, with electronic monitoring, some nonviolent offenders who are aged, or infirm, or whose sentences expire in less than a year.

Both plans include these components:

Schwarzenegger would turn over up to 8,500 noncitizen felons to federal authorities for deportation.

Some offenders would be allowed to serve time in local jails rather than in state prisons.

Inmates would be allowed to earn up to six additional weeks in sentencing credits for completing education, vocation or rehabilitation programs in prison.

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