Jeff Beard: The New Name in California Corrections

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — There is a new boss in California who is getting major buzz for his stance on sentencing reform.

Gov. Jerry Brown recently appointed Jeff Beard as the state’s new corrections secretary. Beard is a vocal advocate of alternative sentencing laws that move non-serious criminals into community treatment programs rather than state lockup.

Beard was sworn in as California’s corrections secretary on Dec. 27. A spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confirmed that Beard took his oath of office from a member of the governor’s staff at agency headquarters in Sacramento. Although he has been sworn in, his appointment to the position still requires confirmation by the state Senate.

Beard’s previous experience includes nine years as head of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Beard retired from the position in 2010. While in Pennsylvania, Beard pushed for alternative sentencing, treatment courts and diversion programs for less-serious offenders.

The appointment of Beard to his new post may mean a step in a new direction for California. The state has been criticized with high spending for low-level offenders by the American Civil Liberties Union, but Beard may be just what California’s correctional system needs.

Beard told Pennsylvania lawmakers that heavy reliance on incarceration of low-level offenders “has proven to have limited value in maintaining public safety,” according to a statement.

Although Beard’s former position was with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, he has worked as a consultant and provided assistance to the California Department of Corrections since 2010.

“He came to California in 2010 to testify on behalf of the plaintiffs in the overcrowding lawsuit,” said Matthew Cate, former secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in a statement.

“In his opinion, it was impossible to run an effective corrections system at 200 percent capacity. He did that without pay, because he really believed California needed relief from overcrowding,” said Cate in a statement.

Beard’s new position with the California Department of Corrections will pay $225,000 annually, and he will replace Cate, who recently stepped down to become the leader of the California State Association of Counties. Cate applauded Beard, as well as Gov. Brown for making the decision to appoint Beard to his new position.

“He’s tough, fair, politically savvy and a bit of a nerd,” said Cate. “He has a vast amount of experience working with families, community organizations and stakeholders. That’s the future of corrections.”

Beard will have a tough road ahead of him, as California has about 133,000 inmates and more than 46,000 employees, but needs to reduce the size of both as it tries to cut costs and reduce the population in overcrowded prisons to comply with federal court orders.

Beard has a Jan. 7 deadline to report plans to reduce prison overcrowding. He will be asked to present those plans to a panel of three federal court judges overseeing class action lawsuits for inadequate prison medical, mental and dental health care.

“In the face of a plethora of federal court decisions and the bold realignment enacted by the legislature, Jeff Beard has arrived at the right time to take the next steps in returning California’s parole and correctional institutions to their former luster,” Brown said in a statement announcing the appointment of Beard.

Those close to Beard know that his experience will serve him well in his new role, including his successor in Pennsylvania, John Wetzel.

“I think you guys in California hit a homerun,” said Wetzel.