By Eric Siddall
Governor Brown’s Proposition 57 is a “Criminal’s Bill of Rights.” It grants convicted felons a constitutional right to get released after completing only a minimal part of their sentence. In some cases this number can go as low as two percent of their original sentence. This new “Criminal’s Bill of Rights” trumps earlier constitutional amendments aimed at protecting victims. It effectively overturns anti-crime measures like “Three Strikes.”
Brown wrote Proposition 57 to overturn two decades of anti-crime legislation. He takes dead aim at Article 1, Section 28 of the California Constitution, otherwise known as the “Victim’s Bill of Rights.” However, he won’t directly call for the repeal of these laws because they are popular. So, instead, he made the ingenious move of creating a constitutional amendment to undermine and gut all these prior measures.
How does he do this? He grants the right to accelerated release via increased and unchallengeable sentence credits for all inmates. The governor’s appointed bureaucrats at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will now determine all sentencing credits.
He wipes out the effects of sentencing enhancements and priorable offenses. Again, he does not do this directly, because it would be incredibly unpopular. Instead he removes these additional sentences from consideration for parole eligibility. This means that someone who committed a drive-by shooting will be treated the same as a person who committed a drive-by shooting, but also did it for the purpose of benefiting his gang and had a prior armed robbery conviction.
Brown wanted this as constitutional amendment to make it difficult for reversal of these new rights for inmates when, as will happen, the crime rate climbs with the accelerated release of dangerous felons.
The governor ignores the reasons behind lengthy prison sentences. Long sentences are the result of enhancements or consecutive sentences, designed to increase punishment for those criminals who choose to engage in more egregious conduct. Whether imposing additional time for the physical or economic harm caused, the weapon used, or the choice to continue to commit serious or violent crimes despite having prior convictions for same, the increased prison time is reflective of increased criminality by the individual. It is rather bizarre to suggest that we should treat the first time offender the same as the harden criminal.
These enhancements are in recognition of the rights of crime victims and the harm they have suffered at the hands of the defendant. They have been effective tools in reducing crime. The current crime rate for serious and violent crime is less than half what it was under the “indeterminate” sentencing scheme the governor adores. Apparently the governor believes that the less than ten years typically served for murder under that scheme, and approximately three years for violent crimes such as robbery and assault, was more than adequate.
Governor Brown’s Prop 57 “Criminal’s Bill of Rights” has been sold on the falsehood that its provisions will be sparingly applied to a select group of non-violent inmates. However, the more the governor talks, the more it becomes clear that what he really wants is reverse the long sentences that have kept the worst offenders in prison, because of some theory that long sentences don’t lower crime rates. Prop 57 is his attempt to return California to what he believes were the halcyon days of the 1970’s when the law protected criminals and victimized the victim.
Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA, which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.