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Inmate conjugal visits may come back to haunt Jerry Brown

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POSTED April 14, 2010 2:51 a.m.
Jerry Brown’s Waterloo as a politician might just come from the corridors of Deuel Vocation Institution as well as the rest of California’s prisons.

Nothing strikes a raw nerve with voters more than pampering – perceived or otherwise – of convicted felons.

Brown can counter those who said he originally opposed Proposition 13 by noting he willingly accepted the will of the voters 100 percent and set about post haste to make it work. And if someone tries to resurrect the flap over his appointment of Rose Bird as the head the California State Supreme Court when she had no previous experiences as a judge and was stridently anti-death penalty, it will likely fall on deaf ears as most voters have either moved on or else were too young to remember what the political rumble was about.

The one thing that may stick to Brown from his first eight-year tour on the State Capitol governor’s office is his expansion of prisoner rights. More specifically Brown virtually led the charge to allow prisoners conjugal visits.

Those who have lost loved ones to violent criminals who then turned around and got their prison house bride pregnant while locked up have long memories.

If you don’t think the relatives of murder victims can create a political firestorm for Brown, guess again. Think how you’d feel if your daughter or son’s killer was allowed to have conjugal visits in prison during which time he fathered children that in most cases ended up being on welfare.

It is a triple insult. The survivors  help pay for both the convicted killers’ defense and warehousing, they are helping  foot the bill for their killer’s children born while they are in prison, and they understand the irony all too well of their children being buried and not being given a chance to have kids.

Brown has voiced regret over the years for large chunks of his prisoner rights agenda back when he was governor from 1975 to 1983. One in specific that he wishes he hadn’t gone forward with was embracing conjugal visits for inmates.  Brown had a change of heart after serving eight years handing one of the toughest elected municipal jobs in California as mayor of Oakland.

The odds are his biggest enemy in the general election won’t be Meg Whitman and her willingness to spend more money than the gross national product of a Third World nation to become governor. Instead it will be the same type of things that did in his father Edmund G, Brown Sr. when he fell to Ronald Reagan who was a political neophyte when it came to running for public office at the time.

It was the elder Brown’s perceived softness on crime that unraveled his bid for a third term as governor and blew a massive lead in the polls. Specifically it was the disruptive Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, the Watts Riots and the Hunter Point Riots. Their situations are obviously different. His father was the sitting governor plus Jerry Brown is currently running a strong attorney general’s office for the State of California.

However as convicted felons get released early from state prisons in the coming months Brown as the top elected law enforcement official in the state will be painted with a large brush of outrage from those most impacted by crimes - the victims and their relatives. It won’t matter if it is beyond his control. He will be perceived as weak on criminals which arguably isn’t the case today.
Any flap about criminals getting it easy in the coming months will allow his Republican opponent to pound him into the ground.

Whitman, who is awaiting coronation as the Republican challenger thanks to her spending her way into the stratosphere to gain strong name recognition, will ultimately go more negative than she has with the frontal stabbing she is doing to Steve Poinzer in her bid to become the GOP nominee.

It will be easy for Whitman’s handlers – although not exactly fair – to paint Brown as a leader who coddles criminals.

In Brown’s connection with the sweeping implementation of enhanced prisoner rights in the 1970s is his Achilles’ heel and Whitman’s ace in the hole come November.
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