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Crime & Courts

California struggles with public safety experiment that shifts prison inmates to county jails

Gov. Jerry Brown pushed a novel approach through the Legislature two years ago to dramatically reduce California's prison population in response to a federal court order.

Under the law, people convicted of lesser felonies are now serving their sentences in county jails rather than state prisons.

The shift is one of the nation's largest criminal justice experiments. The prison population has dropped so much that California now ranks second to Texas, though Texas has 12 million fewer residents.

But many law enforcement officials, victims' rights groups and Republican lawmakers say crime has increased.

Even some Democrats say portions should be revised. And for all the upheaval, the frustration for Brown is that the shift of tens of thousands of prisoners still has not been enough to satisfy the federal courts.

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