- Associated Press - Thursday, December 3, 2015

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California’s corrections chief announced Thursday that he is stepping down after three years overseeing a prison system that has dramatically shrunk in response to federal court orders and voters’ wishes.

Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Jeffrey Beard secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in December 2012.

Beard said in a letter that he will leave the post on Jan. 1. Brown did not immediately appoint a replacement.

Beard took over a California system that was once the nation’s largest but faced a federal court order to reduce overcrowding. The prison population began dropping in late 2011 under a law that shifted responsibility for lower-level offenders from state prisons to county jails. The population fell more than 27,000 inmates in the first year.

More than 4,500 additional convicts were released after voters last year approved Proposition 47, reducing penalties for some drug and property crimes.

“Secretary Beard took charge of California’s prison system at a time of great challenge, including overcrowding and numerous federal lawsuits,” Brown said in a statement. He credited Beard for making prisons “safer and more focused on rehabilitation.”

Beard, 68, previously headed Pennsylvania’s prison system from 2001 until he retired in 2010.

He testified in 2008 that California prisons were dangerously overcrowded.

As California corrections secretary four years later, he was in the unusual position of contradicting some of his own earlier statements when he joined Brown in arguing that the prisons could safely hold more inmates than the number set by federal judges. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually upheld the lower population limit.

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