In an effort to create public awareness on matters that adversely affect public safety, the Imperial County District Attorneyâ€™s Office takes this opportunity to inform the public about a damaging potential change in our criminal justice system. Governor Brown wants California voters to approve Proposition 57, an initiative that would allow tens of thousands of dangerous criminals to be released early from prison.Â While Proposition 57 is creatively titled â€œThe Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016â€, it has little to do with public safety or rehabilitation.Â In fact, the initiative does the exact oppositeâ€”it is an attempt at prison reform designed to reduce the prison population and save money at the expense of our safety.
If this ballot measure is approved, it will overturn four decades of laws passed by the voters and the California Legislature that have lowered crimes rates and protected the public by keeping serious criminals behind bars.Â At its core, the initiative is a throwback to past failed policies that allowed correction officials to release felons after they had served very short periods of incarceration.Â These policies produced record levels of violent crime and are strikingly similar to the policies the governor is proposing.
The governor argues the initiative only applies to â€œnonviolentâ€ prisoners but it is important for us to realize that the legal definition of â€œnonviolentâ€ is much different from the common sense meaning.
Crimes such as domestic violence, terrorist threats, assault with a deadly weapon, residential burglary, rape of an unconscious person, human trafficking, battery with serious bodily injury, involuntary or vehicular manslaughter, exploding of a destructive device with intent to injure and active participation in a street gang are all nonviolent under the law and would qualify for early release under the initiative.
The initiative also would make the following changes:
* Grant criminals a constitutional right to be considered for parole after serving just a portion of their sentences no matter how serious the crime was or how many offenses were committed.
*Make criminals eligible for early parole consideration by disregarding consecutive sentences imposed by a judge for additional crimes, prior offenses and enhancements. This effectively treats the worst offenders the same as first time offenders.
*Nullify provisions of the Victimâ€™s Bill of Rights enacted by voters in 1982, which requires enhancement of sentences for prior serious felony convictions.
*Undermine the protections of Marcyâ€™s Law, a second Victimâ€™s Bill of Rights enacted by voters in 2008, which requires that sentences be carried out as ordered by the court and mandates that sentences â€œshall not be substantially diminished by early release policies intended to alleviate overcrowding in custodial facilities.â€
*Abolish much of the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act, passed by 62 percent of voters in 2000, by restricting the prosecution in adult court of juveniles charged with murder and other serious offenses.
*Disregard the will of 81 percent of voters who enacted the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act, by allowing prison officials to reduce prison sentences for human traffickers.
The governorâ€™s initiative is an experiment.Â He tells us he wants to make prisons more humane.Â That is an admirable goal.Â However, this is an ill-conceived plan that compromises our public safety by giving the benefits to thousands of the worst criminals and ignores the innocent members of the community who have been victimized.Â Â As public prosecutors in Imperial County, we cannot support the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 because it does not protect the public and it does not rehabilitate offenders.Â The governor is risking the safety of the public in an attempt to save money.Â This is a risk we cannot afford to take.
Gilbert G. Otero
Deborah D. Owen
Assistant District Attorney