Photo via Pixabay
Photo via Pixabay

Voters Tuesday approved a measure aimed at giving “non-violent” California prisoners a chance at parole after completing their minimum sentence, a move proponents said will emphasize rehabilitation and reduce prison overcrowding, but that opponents contended will put violent offenders on the streets.

Proposition 57 will allow parole consideration for people convicted of “non-violent” felonies after completing the prison term for their primary offense, and authorize prison officials to award inmates sentencing credits for rehabilitation, good behavior or educational achievements. The measure will also give juvenile court judges the authority to determine if juvenile offenders aged 14 or older should be tried as adults.

Gov. Jerry Brown was a chief proponent of the measure. He and other backers of the measure insisted it will put an emphasis on rehabilitation, reducing the likelihood of felons committing new crimes. They denied it will put violent offenders back on the streets, and contended that even non-violent offenders eligible under the proposition would have to prove they are rehabilitated and do not present a danger to the public before they are released.

Supporters of the measure also denied allegations that the measure would result in felons being automatically released from prison.

“Overcrowded and unconstitutional conditions led the U.S. Supreme Court to order the state to reduce its prison population,” Brown and other supporters wrote in a ballot argument in favor of the measure. “Now, without a common-sense, long-term solution, we will continue to waste billions and risk a court-ordered release of dangerous prisoners. This is an unacceptable outcome that puts Californians in danger — and this is why we need Prop 57.”

The proposition was opposed by a multitude of law enforcement agencies and officials, including Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who said the list of offenses labeled “non-violent” by the proposition includes acts such as rape of an unconscious person.

Brian Moriguchi, president of the Professional Peace Officers Association of Los Angeles, said the recent killings of Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Owen and Palm Springs police Officers Lesley Zerebny and Jose Gilbert Vega were carried out by parolees.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Antonovich said Proposition 57 will follow the path of legislation known as AB 109, which redirected some low-level offenders to county jails instead of state prisons, often leading to them serving less time than they otherwise would. He said AB 109 was also billed as applying to only “non-violent” offenders.

“What happened? Seventy percent are either high-risk or very high risk,” Antonovich said.

“It’s time that we wake up and get realistic,” he said. “We need to protect our communities, we need to protect our people. … We need to unite to return this state to a Golden State where it’s safe to walk the streets instead of having fear where people in the community are now having to buy private security to supplement the local law enforcement to protect their property and protect their lives and families.”

–City News Service 

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