As California nears the November election, the debate surrounding Governor Jerry Brown’s criminal justice initiative is intensifying. Proposition 57 would take the power to transfer kids to adult court out of the hands of prosecutors and give the control back to judges. It would also as increase parole eligibility for non-violent offenders who have completed the base sentence for their primary offense and boost access to early release credits.
Critics—who are largely law enforcement leaders and district attorneys—say the measure could allow for the early release of violent offenders because it is too vague. They point, for example, to rape by use of drugs and sexual penetration or oral copulation of an unconscious person, which are not classified as “violent” in California law.
Governor Brown and Prop. 57 proponents argue that offenders aren’t going to get a free pass to get out of prison. The inmates will have to be screened for public security and go before the parole board.
Brown says the initiative is a common-sense response to the US Supreme Court’s order to reduce prison overcrowding in California. “Eighty percent of what Proposition 57 does is being done right now under the force of a court order,” Brown said. About 7,000 inmates categorized as non-violent felony offenders who have completed their base sentences would be able to apply for parole, according to the Associated Press, but around 5,700 of those offenders are reportedly already eligible for parole because of the federal court order.
KQED’s Marisa Lagos has more on the debate. Here’s a clip:
Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said many crimes that are violent are considered nonviolent under state law, and that allowing people to be released early violates a compact the state made with victims.
“You might have a guy that gets sentenced by a judge and after having heard from a defense attorney and a DA and a victim and the defendant, and the judge says, ‘Mr. Jones, I sentence you to 25 years. That’s based upon the crimes. It’s based upon these enhancements. It’s based upon your prior convictions for violent crimes. You have 25 years,’ ” she said. “Now, the victim who had the courage and fortitude to come into a courtroom and testify, say on a domestic violence case — poof. That’s all gone.”
She called the measure “very dangerous for California” and “disgraceful for victims of crime.”
But Brown argued the ballot measure’s provisions are a natural extension of actions the court has already ordered the state to undertake. Currently, many people in prison under the state’s three-strikes law are being paroled early under a process similar to what Proposition 57 proposes.
“Eighty percent of what Proposition 57 does is being done right now under the force of a court order. It is backed up by the United States Supreme Court and which we cannot change unless they say our remedy, in this case Proposition 57, is durable and serves the end of justice,” Brown said.
He said the changes must be combined with rehabilitative programs.
“Education, junior college programs, drug treatment, more intensive mental health,” he said. “All these things that will take people — many have been abused as children, neglected, starting narcotics when they are 10 or 12, and are turning their lives around with some professional help.”
The governor says inmates will be more inclined to participate in those programs if they have the opportunity to leave prison sooner — and that society will be safer if they leave prison rehabilitated.
SCOTT BUDNICK DISCUSSES THE “SMART ON CRIME” BALLOT INITIATIVE
In an interview with The Atlantic’s Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, “Hangover” series producer-turned justice-reform advocate Scott Budnick talks about his involvement with Prop. 57 and why he believes it to be “one of the smartest measures that has ever been put forward.”
Budnick, who left Hollywood behind to found the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), helped draft the language in both the juvenile justice portion of the initiative and the sections dealing with adult prisoners.
Budnick says incentivizing education and rehabilitation programs through the use of good time credits will result in improved chances of success for inmates exiting prison, and thus, hopefully reduced recidivism.
Here’s a clip (but go over to The Atlantic to read the rest):
Lantigua-Williams: The governor decided to introduce adult provisions into what was originally a bill about juvenile offenders.
Budnick: If you think about it, it’s not juvenile versus adult. The juveniles who we’re talking about in a direct-file piece are going to adult prison, going to adult court, and getting adult sentences. They’re only juvenile in age. In California, they’re not treated as juveniles. Once they’re direct filed, in every part of their contact with the system they become an adult.
Lantigua-Williams: California has been leading the charge in terms of trying to reduce incarcerations. Do you see Prop. 57 as an overall play toward that?
Budnick: I don’t think it’s an ambitious plan to decarcerate. The governor obviously has a population cap that judges have given him for the system, and the governor realizes that the people who are leaving prison under our current mechanism have no incentive to rehabilitate whatsoever. They can just sit in prison. Imagine if you had a nine-year determinate sentence: You could sit and shoot up heroin and continue gang politics, and you’re still getting released in nine years. There’s nothing that you need to do before then. You could get drunk every night in prison, party, have fun, and there is nothing that forces you to change, that forces you to go to education programs, forces you to get a job, forces you to learn a trade, forces you to go to therapy. None of that exists right now. The people who are actually getting out of prison under our current system have no incentive to change whatsoever.
That’s why Prop. 57 includes the rehabilitation credits for educational achievements, GEDs, college, jobs, career technical education. You incentivize someone with the ability to get out a few months earlier, a year earlier. If they’ve completed all these things, all the evidence points to reduced recidivism. What makes a safer community is the amount of people who decide to change. Decide to not use drugs anymore. Decide to not involve themselves in gangs.
Every single person in prison who makes that decision comes out and makes us a safer community. If we can triple that number, quadruple that number, go 10 times that number of people—who choose to change and come into the community, are now college students, are now union workers or working at businesses, are not gang members, are not drug dealers, and are not drug addicts—that’s real public safety. This is one of the smartest measures that has ever been put forward. It’s really, really smart on crime.
SF CHRON URGES “YES” ON 57
The San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board has recommended “yes” on Prop. 57, saying that Prop. 57 gives inmates real incentive to participate in education and rehabilitation programs to earn early release credits. Here’s a clip:
Simply allowing a certain class of offenders — those who have served their base sentences for a nonviolent felony offense — the opportunity to be eligible for early release doesn’t mean they’re all going to earn it. These offenders still have to be screened for public safety, and then they have to go before the parole board.
The difference is that now they’ll have an incentive to be better civilians. Under the current system, offenders have little motivation to participate in rehabilitative programs. Instead, they’re encouraged to sit in prison — a difficult, dangerous environment — and wait until their sentence is finished. When they’re released, they’re often more dangerous than they were when they went in.
Prop. 57 requires California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to implement a new system of credits for inmates based on their successful participation in evidence-based rehabilitation programs like education and drug treatment. The state prison system awards the sentencing credits, and then the parole board makes the final decision about whether an offender is worthy of release.
“This does nothing to change sentencing,” said Mark Bonini, chief probation officer for Amador County. “Nothing changes on the sentencing side. The people we’re talking about are going to be released to (parole) supervision, and this gives us a better chance of rehabilitation.”