Maldonado, mulling gubernatorial bid, hits Brown's prison policy

Abel Maldonado, in his first public move since announcing that he was considering a run for governor, on Wednesday attacked Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison policy, arguing that Brown has made Californians unsafe by allowing certain criminals serve their sentences in county jails instead of state prison.

Maldonado, the state’s former lieutenant governor, will announce Wednesday morning that he is spearheading an effort to put an initiative on the 2014 ballot that would roll back a 2011 bill – AB 109, known as “public-safety realignment” -- which was designed to reduce overcrowding in state prisons. He said Brown should have known that many county jails are also overcrowded and that this move would result in criminals being released early.

“This is the biggest issue – it threatens the lives of Californians,” Maldonado said in an interview with The Times. “This notion of families being afraid to go out on the street, being afraid of parking garages, families who are just afraid. A lot of people really don’t know what AB 109 is because the governor uses a fancy word called realignment. At the end of the day, it’s early release. It’s a shell game is what it is.”

While the law only applies to criminals sentenced for nonviolent and non-sex-related crimes, Maldonado argues that some of the criminals being sent to county jails have lengthy rap sheets and are dangers to their communities.  He plans to hold an event Thursday in Fontana, where a woman was stabbed to death by a convict. Local officials blamed the murder on realignment. State officials have countered that the suspect, who was killed by police, had finished his prison sentence, violated parole and then was released early by county officials.

Many local officials have complained that their jails were already overcrowded when realignment forced them to house more offenders rather than send them to state prisons.

Maldonado is chairing the signature-gathering effort to put the initiative on the 2014 ballot. Co-chairs include Erin Runnion, the mother of Samantha Runnion, a 5-year-old Orange County girl murdered in 2002, and Mark Klaas, the father of Polly Klaas, a 12-year-old Petaluma girl whose 1993 murder inspired the state’s three-strikes law.

In early April, Maldonado filed paperwork allowing him to raise money for a possible gubernatorial bid. Most Republicans acknowledge that defeating Brown will be a tough battle, both because of the governor’s popularity and because of the state’s Democratic tilt. But several operatives say public safety issues  may be a vulnerability for the governor.

Federal judges have ordered California to reduce crowding in its prisons to ensure inmates receive adequate care, and last month threatened to hold Brown and other state officials in contempt if they delayed meeting a cap on the inmate population. Brown responded by noting that the state has already reduced the population by 43,000 inmates, and filed a plan in federal court earlier this month that would release hundreds of low-risk prisoners and send thousands more to country jails and state fire camps. He said in his filing, however, that even he does not support the plan, which he produced under protest.

A spokesman for Brown said he would hold off on commenting on the matter until after Maldonado held his press conference.

Twitter: @LATSeema

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