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California program that helps reduce prison sentences under review to be cut

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(The Center Square) – Lake County, California, received a small $81,403 grant from the state to hire a bilingual paralegal to research court records to find people in prison who may be eligible to have their prison sentence reduced.

Los Angeles County received $12.7 million from that same grant to pay three agencies to do the same research as part of a state-wide effort called the Public Defense Pilot Program to reduce prison sentences.

The California State Legislature has passed bills reforming the state’s incarceration rules, resulting in a reduction of over 10,000 years of incarceration throughout the state. However, for the second year in a row, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plans to cut $40 million in the final year of the $140 million Public Defense Pilot Program.

“Closing a shortfall of $38 billion poses a substantial challenge and requires difficult decisions to reduce spending,” H.D. Palmer, deputy director for external affairs for California’s Department of Finance, said in an email to The Center Square.

Palmer said the third year of funding is under consideration to be cut because it hadn’t been given out yet. Palmer added the first two years of the program will be evaluated and that report would impact “future decisions about the effectiveness of the program.”

Newsom proposed cutting the program in 2023-24, but the funding was later restored.

The city of San Francisco Board of Supervisors put forward a resolution opposing the cuts at its March 5 meeting. San Francisco received $1.2 million from the pilot program and has removed 1,000 years of prison time.

Amanda Perez, a social worker in the Freedom Project of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, said her program has reunited 46 people with their communities who had been serving life sentences. Perez submitted her comments to the San Francisco supervisors.