California officials will fight a proposal by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to cut $1 billion from the state budget by shifting 23,000 state prisoners to overcrowded local jails during the next three years, the Los Angeles Times reports. “This presents a serious danger to public safety,” said Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley. “We are putting in jeopardy gains that have resulted in crime plunging in L.A. to its lowest level in 50 years.” The state’s 33 prisons house 155,000 inmates and are under a federal court order to relieve overcrowding. If state officials do not address the problem soon, a panel of three federal judges could set a cap on new prisoners and order thousands released.
The governor wants to cut the numbers being sent to prison by changing state sentencing guidelines so those who commit low-level felonies such as fraud or grand theft, known as “wobblers,” would be prosecuted for misdemeanors and sentenced to jail instead. Facing a possible $24-billion state budget deficit, the governor’s office estimates that changing the sentencing laws could save $99.9 million in the next fiscal year, $360 million the following year and $566 million the third year.