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Proposition 57: Criminal Sentences. Juvenile Criminal Proceedings and Sentencing. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

The California Labor Federation supports this measure. Want to learn more? Read Dr. Steven Pitt’s “Vote YES on Prop 57 to Reform our Broken Criminal Justice System” in California Labor’s 2016 Top Props Series. Check it out here.

vote-yes

Click here to download California Labor’s 2016 Endorsements & Ballot Measures Analyses

A YES vote on this measure means:

A YES vote would authorize parole consideration for people with non-violent convictions who complete the full sentence for their primary offense, incentivize people in prison to complete rehabilitation and education programs, and allow judges, instead of prosecutors, decide if juveniles should be tried as adults.

A NO vote on this measure means:

A NO vote would make no change to California’s sentencing or parole laws.

Official Secretary of State Ballot Summary:   

  • Allows parole consideration for persons convicted of nonviolent felonies upon completion of full prison term for primary offense, as defined.
  • Authorizes Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to award sentence credits for rehabilitation, good behavior, or educational achievements.
  • Requires Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to adopt regulations to implement new parole and sentence credit provisions and certify they enhance public safety.
  • Provides juvenile court judges shall make determination, upon prosecutor motion, whether juveniles age 14 and older should be prosecuted and sentenced as adults.

Background:

Proposition 21, passed by voters in 2000, made various changes to California’s laws related to the treatment of juvenile offenders. Under Prop 21, juveniles 14 years of age or older charged with committing certain crimes are no longer eligible for juvenile court and discretion to try juveniles in adult court taken away from juvenile courts and given to prosecutors. Prop 21 also allowed for enhanced prison terms, from an extra two to ten years, for gang-related crimes committed by juveniles.

In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that overcrowding in California’s penitentiaries violated the Eight Amendment’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment, in part because of prisoners’ problems accessing health care. The high court ordered California to reduce its prison population, which at the time stood at 140,000 inmates, to 137.5 percent of the system’s designed capacity, roughly 114,000 inmates. Lower courts set a deadline for California to meet that threshold by February 2016.

In January 2015, California’s prisons dropped below 137.5 percent of the prisoners they were designed to hold—the threshold set by federal courts—for the first time in recent memory. California’s total prison population has declined by 45 percent since its peak in 2006. Approved by voters in 2014, Proposition 47 has led to nine straight months of decreases in the state’s prison population and 7,700 fewer inmates in the system than before the public approved the changes last year, according to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Currently the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) can award credits to prison inmates to reduce the time that they serve. The credits are awarded for good behavior or participation in work, training, or education programs. State law restricts the amount of credits that certain inmates can earn and also caps the amount of time the inmate can reduce their sentence.

Governor Jerry Brown is sponsoring this initiative to continue to address prison overcrowding in California.  The measure would increase parole chances for felons convicted of non-violent crimes by making them eligible for parole after serving their full sentence and dropping any sentencing enhancements.  It would give prisoners more opportunities to earn credits for good behavior. It would also allow judges, instead of prosecutors, the power to decide whether to try certain juveniles as adults in court.

Individuals convicted of non-violent felony crimes that have served their basic sentences and passed screening for public security would be eligible for parole. The ballot measure would give the approximately 25,000 nonviolent state prisoners an opportunity for earlier release, by allowing the parole board to consider them for parole after they serve their entire initial sentences, but before they serve time tacked on by sentencing enhancements.

Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance estimate of fiscal impact: 

Net state savings that could range from the tens of millions of dollars to the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually primarily due to a reduction in the prison population from additional paroles granted and credits earned. Net county costs that could range from the millions to tens of millions of dollars annually, declining to a few million dollars after initial implementation of the measure.

Support and Opposition:

Supporters include the State Building and Construction Trades Council, the National Center for Youth Law, Human Rights Watch and the Chief Probation Officers of California. They argue that California’s jail and prison populations have exploded, and the state now spends nearly 10% of our general fund on our prison system.  We are spending too much taxpayer funds to lock up nonviolent offenders.  Today, our prisons are under a court-ordered cap.  Without a plan, the court can order the arbitrary release of prisoners. Supporters argue that this measure stops this threat.  They also argue that it will protect public safety by providing incentives to earn credit for good behavior and vocational training, creating opportunities for them when they are paroled.

Opponents, such as the CA District Attorneys Association and victims’ advocates, argue that the language in the initiative would amend drastic changes to our sentencing laws to our state Constitution.  Such changes include eligibility for parole that disregards enhancements such as use of a deadly weapon, commission of a crime to benefit a criminal street gang, or prior prison terms.  Opponents also argue that this measure disregards consecutive sentences for the commission of multiple offenses and provides prison officials with broad authority to award increased conduct credits, including to murderers and rapists. Opponents also argue that the measure undermines more than four decades of criminal justice policies approved by the Legislature and California voters that were designed to enhance public safety and protect the rights of crime victims.

Prior Positions:

The Labor Federation supported Prop 47, a measure to lower penalties from felonies to misdemeanors for many crimes, as long as the amount involved is $950 or less.


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