Proposition 57 — a constitutional amendment proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown — would be “disastrous” for public safety and take the state “back to the 1970s and 1980s” in terms of violent crime, San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow said Wednesday.
Dow led a who’s who of San Luis Obispo County law enforcement officials that included the county’s seven police chiefs in voicing their opposition to the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act, which voters will decide on Nov. 8. They were joined in front of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office by county Supervisor Debbie Arnold and Atascadero City Councilman Brian Sturtevant.
The proposed amendment is twofold. First, it would take authority away from prosecutors in charging people under the age of 18 in adult court, and instead require a judge’s approval. The more contentious part of the measure, however, would allow people convicted of certain crimes to go before a parole board once they’ve served their minimum prison term, and before they have served terms for additional gang, weapon, and injury-related criminal enhancements.
Critics argue that the initiative will lead to the “early release” of thousands of inmates.
However, being eligible for parole doesn’t necessarily mean early release. In 2015, the state Board of Parole Hearings found just 17 percent of eligible inmates suitable for release, and those parole recommendations were subject to reversal by the governor, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled California’s overcrowded prisons were unconstitutional and ordered the state to reduce its prison inmate population.
Proponents of Prop. 57 say the measure will address that mandate and save tens of millions of taxpayer dollars while focusing resources on keeping dangerous criminals behind bars, rehabilitating juvenile and adult inmates.
The initiative is endorsed by the California Democratic Party and groups such as the California Labor Federation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Chief Probation Officers of California; as well as newspapers such as The Sacramento Bee, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Los Angeles Times, which called the measure a “much-needed check on prosecutorial power.”
Opponents of the measure also say that it will contribute to an already rising level of violent and other crime. Nearly every state and county law enforcement organization, the California District Attorneys Association, several victims advocacy groups and San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson reject the measure, as do The San Jose Mercury News, The San Diego Union-Tribune and The Fresno Bee, which called the initiative “poorly written.”
If Prop. 57 passes, I, as a prosecutor, and my deputy district attorneys will never be able to look a victim in the eye and tell them with any certainty how long their abuser ... will be kept in prison so they are safe.
San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow
“Proposition 57 is written with one purpose in mind, and that is to reduce the state prison population by (letting) state prisoners — thousands of state prisoners — out of state prison and back into our communities early and well before their ordered time in prison has been served,” Dow said at the news conference.
Contrary to popular belief, Dow said, relatively few crimes in California are legally defined as violent. He listed several crimes that he said count as nonviolent offenses: human trafficking of a minor, placing a bomb at a school or church, domestic violence, assault with a deadly weapon and rape of an unconscious victim.
“Does the name Brock Turner from Stanford come to mind?” Dow said. “Because the rape of that 22-year-old woman by Brock Turner was certainly violent to her.”
Speakers at the event argued that preliminary crime data shows the state experienced an uptick in violent and property crimes in 2015, which they attributed to 2011’s AB 109, or state prison realignment, as well as Prop. 47, which downgraded certain nonviolent felonies and simple drug possession to misdemeanors when voters passed the measure in 2014.
“Due to (those measures), there are truly virtually zero nonviolent prisoners in state prison today. They’re either in the county jail or they’re on our streets,” Dow said.
He further added that the measure would undermine the “tough on crime” policies that have led to a decrease in violent crime over the past several decades. He said victims will be “left hanging,” not knowing when their attacker or rapist would be freed.
“If Prop. 57 passes, I, as a prosecutor, and my deputy district attorneys will never be able to look a victim in the eye and tell them with any certainty how long their abuser ... will be kept in prison so they are safe,” Dow said.
It’s a travesty and it shouldn’t stand.
Atascadero Police Chief Jerel Haley
Jerel Haley, Atascadero police Chief and president of the Criminal Justice Administrators Association of San Luis Obispo County, likened authors of the measure to “snake oil salesmen” in their claims that the measure will only apply to “nonviolent” criminals.
“Violent offenders will be set loose if this legislation passes,” Haley said. “It’s a travesty and it shouldn’t stand.”
Asked for an alternative to reduce the state’s prison overcrowding, Dow and Haley replied that the state should build more prisons while Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten said the state has already met the mandate to reduce the prison population.
“The fact is, there is no crisis right now,” Totten said, adding that “We are beneath the prison population cap that the three-judge panel set.”
The speakers at the news conference did not address the measure’s impact to charging minors in adult court. Currently, San Luis Obispo County has three juveniles facing decades in prison for robbery and other charges in relation to an alleged July home invasion. The DA’s Office is trying the teens as adults.
Following the press conference, Dow told The Tribune that most members of the Prop. 57 opposition and the California District Attorney’s Association take little issue with that part of the measure. He said his office tries juveniles as adults only in rare situations, and he would have no problem with a judge making the decision.
“That is largely insignificant compared to the widespread effect the (adult early release) would have,” Dow said.
Calls to the Governor’s Office were referred to a spokesman for the Yes on 57 campaign, who did not return requests for comment Wednesday.