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Early inmate releases worry Californians
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SACRAMENTO  (AP) — Californians are concerned about the possible early release of state inmates and say they are not confident local governments can handle the extra responsibilities under the criminal justice realignment plan pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California.

The statewide survey found that about half of likely California voters support the proposal by the Democratic governor and Legislature to take more time to reduce the prison population and increase money for rehabilitation programs. The federal courts had given the state until the end of the year to reduce the population by an additional 9,600 inmates but extended that this week until late January. The governor and lawmakers had sought a three-year extension.

Some, 77 percent of likely voters said they are very or somewhat concerned that the state still could be forced to release thousands of prisoners early. Nearly half said violence and street crime are at least somewhat of a problem in their communities, with black and Latino voters most frequently reporting concerns.

Six in 10 likely voters said they are not confident their local government can handle the new responsibilities created by shifting lower-risk inmates from state prisons to county jails, which is one of the main ways Brown is complying with the federal court's order to lower the prison population.

That federal court battle, which revolves around improving prison medical care to constitutional standards, and the 2011 realignment law have contributed to growing crime and public safety concerns for Californians, said Mark Baldassare, the poll's director and the institute's chief executive.

"For the last two years, Californians have been hearing a lot about crime and prison issues with realignment and continuing efforts to address overcrowding in prisons," he said. "People are watching this issue."

Statistics from the state Department of Justice show that while violent crime rose slightly in 2012, California's rates were half those seen 20 years ago.

In the institute's poll, roughly half of likely voters said their local government is doing enough to combat crime, while 39 percent said those officials should be doing more.

The survey also found Californians reporting record-high support for same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana. They also favor a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally and express uncertainty about how the federal health care law will affect them.

The survey was based on interviews with 1,703 adults by landline and cellphone Sept. 10-17. It has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points for all adults, and plus or minus 4.5 percentage points for likely voters.

Among its other findings:

— Legalizing marijuana drew majority support for the first time, with 52 percent of Californians and 60 percent of likely voters in favor. Nearly seven in 10 likely voters say the federal government should not enforce national marijuana laws in states that allow its use.

— A record level of likely voters, 64 percent, support same-sex marriage. The issue also received majority backing from respondents 55 years and older.

— Nearly eight in 10 likely voters favor a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.

— With the new health insurance exchange set to open Tuesday, four in 10 likely voters said they do not think the federal health care law will make a difference for them and their families. Another 22 percent say they will be better off because of the law, while 34 percent say they expect to be worse off.

— On public education funding, 72 percent of Californians support the additional money for schools that was approved in this year's state budget. Most respondents also said they are confident their local schools will use the money wisely.

— About half of Californians oppose the increased use of fracking to extract oil and natural gas. Eight in 10 support requirements that drillers seek permits and disclose the chemicals used.