The original ballot title and summary of Proposition 57 is the “Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016,” which couldn’t be further from the truth from what this poorly written and ill- advised initiative would accomplish. While proponents of Proposition 57, led by Governor Jerry Brown, who spent millions of dollars of his campaign fund to qualify the initiative, would have you believe that this alleged parole reform only applies to “non-violent offenses,” such is not the case by a long shot. Consider the following “non-violent,” yet extremely serious criminal offenders who will be eligible for early release many years sooner than required under current state law:
Rape of an unconscious person; rape by intoxication (where victim is too intoxicated to consent); human trafficking of a minor; assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer; exploding a destructive device with intent to injure; hate grimes; assault with a deadly weapon or by force likely to cause great bodily injury; battery with serious injury; inflicting corporal injury on a child; domestic violence; active participation in a criminal street gang; arson of forest land causing physical injury; residential burglary.
Unfortunately, despite testimony from victims, successful prosecutions by guilty plea or jury conviction and sentencing by judges, Proposition 57 would allow eligible state prison inmate to be paroled, potentially years or even decades early, if they take certain classes and behave in prison. The premise is that an inmate not excluded by Proposition 57 will be eligible for parole after serving their basic sentence, regardless of sentencing enhancements including use of dangerous weapons, multiple victims, prior strikes and prior prison sentences. For example, a person who is convicted of 10 counts of sex trafficking for 10 different victims would be eligible for release after serving the initial term for one victim.
The underlying philosophy of Proposition 57, as put forth by Governor Brown, is that people deserve a second chance. In an interview with the East Bay Times on Oct. 9, Governor Brown stated that “it’s very hard to motivate someone with a fixed sentence to turn their life around...Prop 57 says if you shape up, you’ll be released. It becomes in your best interest to take charge of your life and obey the rules.” In the same article, the governor states that “If we shift power back to our parole boards, we’ll have a professional group of people privately evaluating when to release our prisoners .” The problem is that obeying rules in prison is very different from obeying the rules of free society. Some of the best behaved prison inmates are spousal abusers and murderers who do not face the same issues while serving time that they did when they believed they were wronged by their significant others.
I believe Governor Brown to be a very moral and ethical man who has accomplished some great things in his tenure as Governor. However, following the incredible sea change in criminal justice over the last many years that saw the implementation of Realignment followed by Proposition 47, which resulted in the reduction of our state prison population from over 170,000 to the current population in the 115,000 range, the people remaining in prison at this time are the absolute most serious and violent offenders in our state. Since Realignment and Proposition 47, scores of crimes have been classified as “non-violent and non-serious” and persons such as drug dealers, property thieves, identity thieves and many others are no longer eligible for state prison and are now sentenced to county jails that have become mini-prisons, are extremely over-crowded and result in minimal jail time actually being served. At the same time, crime is on the rise throughout California for the first time in decades. FBI statistics show violent crime up more than 10 percent with property crime rates up even higher.
There are really good reasons why 50 elected district attorneys, 25 elected sheriffs, the California Police Chiefs Association, California Peace Officers Association, Napa County Deputy Sheriffs Association and countless victim rights groups are opposed to Proposition 57. Having a group of parole officials, appointed by the governor, make early release decisions using guidelines adopted by the governor, without any input from victims, prosecutors or judges, behind closed doors should make many people very uncomfortable. I for one, as a career prosecutor of over 31 years and your elected DA for the past 18 years, cannot quietly sit by and see what I believe will result in an extreme miscarriage of justice and threat to our public safety occur without advising your readers of my grave concerns.
While I do not disagree that we must continue to examine our prison and parole system and reform what is not just or right. Proposition 57 is not the answer. I strongly urge your no vote.