California is in the process of figuring out how to reduce overcrowding at its prisons following an order from the United States Supreme Court in 2011.
Proposition 57 – the Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements Initiative – is part of that effort, but like many propositions, it’s not without controversy.
Many of the state’s district attorneys, law enforcement officers’ associations and victims’ groups say Prop. 57 could grant earlier releases to many criminals that most Californians would consider violent. Notably, kidnapping victim Jaycee Dugard has come out against Prop. 57, writing on her Facebook, "Other survivors like me should not have to worry when and if their rapist and/or their captor will get out.”
“Rape by drugging somebody. Hate crimes. Gang crimes. Assault with a deadly weapon. Domestic violence. These are all offenses that will be eligible for early release if Prop. 57 passes, and people don’t understand that, because when you read the title, it seems like it only apples to non-violent,” said Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig. “But that’s simply not true.”
If Prop. 57 passes, not everybody technically considered a non-violent offender would automatically be granted early release. Instead, Prop. 57 would allow offenders to gain credits for participating in rehabilitation programs, and then once these offenders carry out their full primary sentences, they could be considered for parole.
Whether these non-violent offenders are actually granted parole is up to the parole board, however, which is made up primarily of peace officers. Mark Bonini, the president of the Chief Probation Officers of California, says that Prop. 57 is a sensible way to reduce prison overcrowding that won’t hurt public safety.
“Much of it is on this scare tactic side of things. When they talk about sex offenders being eligible for Prop. 57, that’s not necessarily the case. A three-judge panel ordered that sex offenders are not part of the current releases that are going on. Prop. 57 does nothing to change that,” Bonini said.
Bonini pointed out that notorious killer Charles Manson has been up for parole, but it’s never been actually granted. He says many of the more violent offenders would see a similar fate if up before parole boards.
Bonini says he’s also encouraged that many of the truly non-violent offenders will be incentivized to participate in the rehabilitation programs, which he believes will reduce the recidivism rate once they are released.