It’s an election year and crime has become a major campaign issue, so it’s no wonder the horrific shootout between two gang factions in downtown Sacramento that left six people dead led to many numerous political attacks.
Republicans, rendered virtually helpless in California, were quick to point the finger at Gov. Gavin Newsom because one of the alleged shooters, Smiley Martin, had only served five years of a 10-year prison sentence for domestic violence in state reason. recently relaxed parole standards.
“In California, you can commit the crime and skip time. Criminals see little to no consequences for crime, and that needs to change,” said Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk. “If we want to restore order and safety in our communities, a good place to start is to ensure that early release credits are not given to violent and dangerous criminals just to breathe.”
In response, Newsom’s office said the state prison system was simply implementing the power to award more generous “good time” credits to inmates than voters allowed when they passed the proposal. 57 in 2016.
Prison authorities had fast-tracked the new rules without the possibility of public participation, but after legal action was taken and a judge tentatively ruled against the process, they reversed and granted a comment period.
The politician who should take responsibility for allowing the alleged shooter and other violent criminals to serve only part of their sentence is former Governor Jerry Brown, who wrote Proposition 57 and more or less tricked the voters by making them believe that it would only benefit criminals who committed non-violent crimes.
Brown’s stated goal was to undo some of the tough sentencing laws he had signed into law during his first term as governor nearly four decades earlier, saying they hadn’t worked.
He closely guarded the details of the “Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016” until just before submitting it as an amendment to a pending ballot measure dealing with juvenile justice, eliminating virtually any chance for opponents to influence the DOJ’s “title and summary” treatment.
The measure, a constitutional amendment, declares that “anyone convicted of a nonviolent felony and sentenced to a term of state prison is eligible for parole after serving the full sentence of their primary offence” and has them made it easier to reduce the “full term” with more generous credits for good conduct.
However, it did not define or list “non-violent criminal offences”. Instead, Brown’s campaign referenced a section of the Penal Code that listed 23 particularly violent offenses, such as murder. Any crime not on the list would be considered non-violent for parole purposes.
Indirectly, therefore, dozens of serious crimes would be considered non-violent for parole purposes. They include assault with a deadly weapon, solicitation of murder, intimidation or violence of a victim or witness of a crime, resisting arrest that injures a police officer, violent abuse of an elder or a child, arson with injury, human trafficking and several forms of manslaughter.
Ironically, as Proposition 57 was being debated, then-Attorney General Kamala Harris released a report revealing that violent crime increased by 10% in 2015 and she counted several crimes that were considered non-violent by Brown’s measure.
Nonetheless, Brown’s campaign for Proposition 57 continued to insist that only nonviolent criminals would benefit, and voters passed the measure with flying colors. Two years ago, voters also rejected a measure that would have added a number of obviously violent crimes to the 23 that Proposition 57 had specified.
CalMatters is a public interest journalism company committed to explaining how the California State Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories from Dan Walters, go to calmmatters.org/commentary.