SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A Democratic state lawmaker on Monday said he wants to alter part of Gov. Jerry Brown's prison realignment law so serious drug pushers are sent to state prisons instead of county jails.
The bill by Assemblyman Ken Cooley of Sacramento would apply to those convicted of selling or transporting more than 2.2 pounds (or 1 kilogram) of heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine. It is one of numerous changes to the 2011 law proposed by lawmakers of both parties.
Cooley says about 40 such offenders have begun serving their sentences in county jails statewide since the realignment law championed by the Democratic governor took effect 18 months ago. Many are serving sentences of 10 years or longer.
As of last month, the California State Sheriffs' Association found that counties were housing more than 1,100 inmates serving sentences of five years or more in jails designed for stays of a year or less.
"These county jail facilities were not set up for long-term incarceration," Cooley said during a news conference at Sacramento County's Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, about 25 miles south of Sacramento.
About 43 percent of the jail's 2,100 inmates are parole violators or convicts sent there because of realignment.
The law is sending thousands of so-called lower-level offenders to county jails as a way to comply with a federal court order to reduce the state prison population. Critics say it is burdening local jails and letting some hardened criminals walk free if there is no room for them.
Cooley and Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully, a Republican, said the law also has benefits, including the chance for offenders to participate in education and rehabilitation programs that are not available to them in prison.
Cooley and Scully said the goal of AB222 is to fix one part of the realignment law, not end it.
"There's a certain point where people need to be punished and their crimes need to be addressed at the state level," Scully said. County jails, she said, "aren't really able to handle that length of term, and it ends up taking away from people that actually will benefit from the services here."
Cooley is co-authoring another realignment change with a fellow Democrat, Assemblywoman Susan Eggman of Stockton. That bill, AB601, would require parole violators to be sent back to state prison for up to a year.
Under realignment, violators can be sentenced to up to six months in county jail, but many are released within days because of overcrowding.
Cooley said lawmakers should also consider sending other long-term inmates to prisons instead of jails, though he stopped short of the harsh criticism leveled by Republican lawmakers who have proposed their own changes.
Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in an email that the department and the administration do not generally comment on pending legislation.
"Any attempts to change realignment that would send more offenders to state prison must be reconciled with the federal court order to reduce prison crowding," he said.
The realignment law has reduced the population of the state's 33 adult prisons by about 25,000 inmates. Brown is fighting a court order that would require the state to reduce the population by about another 10,000 inmates by year's end.
California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, which represents criminal defense attorneys, said Cooley's bill would "chip away" at the state's effort to comply with the federal court ruling and improve conditions at state prisons.
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