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Panel Says Attorney General Should Promote Criminal Rehabilitation

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(credit: Getty Images)

(credit: Getty Images)

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SACRAMENTO (AP) — California Attorney General Kamala Harris should take on an expanded role by attacking the roots of crime while trying to keep parolees from returning to prison, according to a briefing document released Wednesday from law enforcement and reform experts.

The advisory panel who wrote the paper said one of the top jobs of the state’s chief law enforcement officer should be reducing recidivism, as Harris promised during last year’s campaign.

Seven of every 10 parolees return to prison within three years, even though the state spends nearly double the national average to keep inmates incarcerated and nearly a third more than the national average on supervising parolees. The skyrocketing costs consume a dime of every dollar from the state’s general fund.

“We are paying more and getting less than nearly any other state in the country,” wrote the group led by Los Angeles County’s sheriff and the district attorneys of Merced and San Diego counties. “There is no systematic coordination of California’s approach to the issue, but the Attorney General is uniquely positioned to step into this vital role.”

Harris asked 435 experts to examine how California can resolve problems in 11 areas, ranging from gangs and guns to enforcement of environment laws and school truancy. Others addressed mortgage fraud, consumer protection, civil rights and victims’ rights.

She planned to meet with more than 150 of the advisers Wednesday in San Francisco.

Harris spokeswoman Debbie Mesloh said the Democratic attorney general hasn’t committed to accepting any of the recommendations.

This year, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed shifting lower-risk offenders and parolees to counties’ jurisdiction as part of his plan to bridge a deficit of nearly $27 billion in the state budget.

Harris’ group noted that county jails and services already are overburdened. Putting more money into treating and educating ex-convicts, and finding them jobs and housing, would cost less and produce better results in the long run, the group said.

“Those who are violent and dangerous need to be locked up for a long time,” said San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a Republican who was co-chairwoman of group that examined inmate recidivism. “Those who we have a chance to turn around, we need to do that.”

The group also recommended that Harris follow the lead of several other states and convene a state level “re-entry council” that would coordinate services among state agencies.

“It’s a very different role,” said Harriet Salarno, founder and chairwoman of Crime Victims United of California, who was upset that no victims’ rights representatives were on the panel. “My question is, how far can the attorney general legally go? It seems like it’s infringing on the governor and the Legislature.”

Dumanis expected the governor would welcome Harris’ leadership.

A spokesman for Brown’s office did not immediately comment.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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