Several California prison inmates that committed violent crimes have been granted early release under new parole guidelines, and thousands of sex offenders could be next.
These are the ramifications of a recently-implemented law written by Gov. Jerry Brown designed to reduce the population of incarcerated people in the state.
“I drafted it myself,” Brown shot back in an interview that preceded the referendum.
Prosecutors had cautioned that his Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act, known as Proposition 57, was "misleadingly titled" and "so sloppily and poorly drafted" it would "wreak havoc on public safety."
Nearly 16 months after its passage, law enforcement officials are scrambling to prepare for the aftermath.
As the Associated Press recently reported:
California must consider earlier parole for potentially thousands of sex offenders, maybe even those convicted of pimping children, a state judge said. …
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner preliminarily ordered prison officials to rewrite part of the regulations for Proposition 57. The 2016 ballot measure allows consideration of earlier parole for most state prison inmates, but Gov. Jerry Brown promised all sex offenders would be excluded.
The original language in Prop 57 did not exempt sex offenders from consideration. Officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) added an exclusionary provision after voters had already approved the law.
"Proposition 57 states any person convicted of a 'nonviolent felony offense' is eligible for early parole consideration," wrote Judge Sumner. "CDCR essentially inserts the phrase 'except registered sex offenders' into the text of the initiative. The court cannot insert words into an initiative to achieve what the court presumes to be the voters' unexpressed intent; neither can CDCR."
As a result, the Parole Board must consider granting early releases to more than 10,000 sex offenders serving time in California prisons.
"If the voters had intended to exclude all registered sex offenders from early parole consideration under Proposition 57, they presumably would have said so," Sumner ruled.
Meanwhile, a group of district attorneys has accused Gov. Brown and his allies of duping voters by distorting the definition of a ‘nonviolent’ felon.
"It's very clear they intended to release violent offenders by re-describing them, despite their crimes, as nonviolent offenders," Michele Hanisee, President of the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys, told KNBC News.
As KNBC News reports:
The cases include those of Alfredo “Freddy” Casillas, who took part in the murder of a rival gang member in Burbank, and Luis Steven Flores, who went to prison for assault with a deadly weapon with a semi-automatic firearm, and served time for battery on a peace officer, as well as battery on another inmate.
They, along with other prisoners with violent histories, became eligible for parole because their most recent convictions for subsequent, unrelated crimes were categorized as nonviolent and the inmates satisfied other conditions.
Opponents of Prop 57 raised virtually no money, while top contributors poured more than $11.8 million into the winning campaign. Donors included George Soros’ Open Society Policy Center, the California Democratic Party, and philanthropist Tom Steyer, who has pledged $40 million toward his ongoing drive to impeach President Donald J. Trump.
The well-financed movement convinced Californians to pass Prop 57 with 64% of the vote, quietly amending the state constitution.
"Brown wanted this as a 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," wrote Eric Siddall, Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.
Law enforcement groups and elected officials throughout the state are organizing an effort to "reduce the damage" of Prop 57 and other policies that were crafted to relieve prison overcrowding.
The Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act would reclassify many of the crimes Prop 57 considers 'non-violent' — including rape by intoxication and human trafficking of a child — to prevent inmates convicted of these crimes from being released from prison early.
Organizers have launched a signature-gathering drive for the measure to qualify for the November 2018 statewide ballot.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.