Jon K. Lane
Professor Craig Carmena
24 October 2018
Assembly Bill 109, Proposition 47, Proposition 57
Are there too many people in our jails and prisons? Do you think crime is increasing or already too high? What concerns you most about the passing of Assembly Bill 109, proposition 47 and proposition 57? My aim in this paper is to help us all further analyze an issue about criminal population that was supposedly solved by Governor Brown. This issue is not just about overcrowding in the state prisons and local jails, or even the danger it brings to its citizens. It is also a monetary problem. The costs of the upkeep of the entire justice system is too expensive. “At the height of the overcrowding crisis, California entered into contracts with facilities in other US states . . . in an attempt to quickly reduce populations at state-run prisons. . . . Governor Brown has pledged to return all inmates from out-of-state correctional facilities . . .” (Washburn).
Proposition 57, or more officially, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act, has its negative aspects without a doubt. The goal that is behind the proposition could be assumed to be both genuine forgiveness for inmates and belief in human corrections, or it could be viewed strictly as a money saver for the State of California. Monetary predictions expect to save in total “. . . tens of millions of dollars annually, primarily due to reductions in the prison population”, while “net county costs of likely a few million dollars annually” (57). For involving themselves in work or education programs, and for good behavior, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is allowed to award prisoners ‘credits’ which minimalizes their prison sentence. “. . . more than half of inmates eligible for credits can only reduce their sentences by fifteen percent because they have a conviction for a violent offense” (57). This proposition fully expands these credits to all prisoners and also regards the limits currently set. In the recent past, extremely violent criminals had no possibility of earning credit. Some only could earn about 15%. Less serious felons could earn up to a maximum of 50%. Now, with proposition 57, all prisoners have the potential to be released early. “Before, prop 57 ‘Non-violent’ offenses eligible for parole after serving 50% of entire sentence. After, prop 57 in ‘non-violent’ offenses eligible for parole after serving ‘primary offense.’ ” (Hanisee). Now, these ideals may seem very helpful for honest people who want to improve their lives and stay out of trouble. However, some of the ‘non-violent’ felonies include assault with a deadly weapon, battery, even arson and rape are not considered to be ‘violent’ felonies under current law. These measures did nothing to change that and in fact I would like to point out that these same authors of these legislations, previously voted no on Senate Bill 75 which would have included those previous examples and many more within the definition of “violent felonies”. I think that is important to note. Another point that is important to note, is that “the level of savings would depend heavily on the number of individuals BPH chose to release” (57). That is an extremely dangerous situation in my eyes, especially when we take under consideration that many heinous crimes are not legally defined as ‘violent’ felonies. Theoretically, if the State of California wanted more money, it could simply release many prisoners and reap the savings.
Proposition 47 changes the law that deals with the sentencing of certain crimes. Petty theft, for instance, is a wobbler crime. This simply means that this crime can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Under current law and said crime, sentencing depends on the type of property, and previous record of defendant. Proposition 47 eliminates those possibilities and requires that any amount equal to $950 or less in the following crimes will always result in a misdemeanor; no longer are these crimes wobblers: Petty theft, shoplifting, receiving stolen property, writing bad checks, check forgery, and drug possession. This is true in most cases with the exception of check forgery and writing bad checks in certain circumstances. Drug possession used to be a wobbler that depended upon the type of drug in possession of defendant as well the amount. Now, any type and amount of illegal drugs in possession of a defendant will be charged as a misdemeanor. In one of my research articles for proposition 47, it states in the summary that “Proposition 47 Requires resentencing for persons serving felony sentences for these offenses unless court finds unreasonable public safety risk” (47). Although later on under ‘proposal’ it states that “the measure also allows certain offenders who have been previously convicted of such crimes to apply for reduced sentences” (47). This is still unclear to me. The last point I want to make, but certainly not least, is about money. This proposition will spend all the money saved from this legislation, which is expected to “. . . reach the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually” for the state as well as “. . . several hundred million dollars annually” (47) for counties. This would be based entirely on the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund, which gives 25% for grants to K-12 schools, 10% for victim services grants, and 65% to support mental health and drug abuse treatment services. The ultimate aim by passing this proposition, it seems, is to make encourage more participation in these programs that would help people behave properly which would ultimately save money for the state and counties.
Assembly Bill 109 “shifted responsibility for housing and supervising of non-serious, non-violent, non-sexual offenders from state to county” (CVAA). The administration of Governor Brown blames prison overcrowding for the high amount of ‘technical’ parole violations. Of these ‘technical’ violations, “actually, only sixteen percent of parolees returned to custody involve cases based on a technical violation of parole, and of those, many . . . are gang activity, violating no contact orders, and non-compliance by sex offenders with the terms and conditions of their parole.” (CVAA). With the already overwhelming county jails, people fear that criminals will end up being released from jail to make room for more serious offenders. “Assembly Bill 109 authorizes counties to contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for beds in state prisons for persons convicted of a felony . . . for a fee . . . approximately $50,000 a year per body.” (CVAA). This bill requires that unless a juvenile is not fit for jail, the Division of Juvenile Justice shall no longer house juveniles. With the passing of this bill, all prisoners in county jails have the possibility of serving only half of their entire sentence. Parolees used to be supervised by State Parole Agents, but now are supervised by county probation. Rather than supervising all felons prior to release, the Department of Corrections Parole Services Division now only supervises “violent” felons, sex offenders, and those who have a list of felonies. Only those who have a life sentence may be returned to a state prison for violating their parole. “Under Jessica’s Law . . . the Board of Parole Hearings has authority to remand the offender on parole if necessary. AB 109 transfers all supervision duties for sex offenders from the Board of Parole Hearings to our local district attorneys, courts and county jails, which are all overwhelmed as it is” (CVAA). Marsy’s Law has a specific right granted to individual victims during criminal and parole proceedings, one of which is the right of victims to be notified of all parole and release proceedings as well as to voice their opinions at any and all proceedings. “AB 109 in PC§3000.08(e) allows for the modification of parole terms, including revocations and parole lengths, without any regard for victims and their rights” (CVAA). Within the Assembly bill, there are no listed conditions of parole that is supposed to be designed to protect victims, such as a restriction from living within a certain distance from the victim. “This new law requires that anyone on parole that is not defined in stature as violent, serious, or a sex offender, regardless of the length of parole ordered, will be released from parole on July 1, 2014.” (CVAA) When we discussed earlier how multiple violent crimes are not considered to be ‘violent’ under current laws, I’d like to bring up a few felonies that are not considered to be ‘violent’ felonies:
“Human trafficking involving a minor, Arson of forest land PC 451(c), causing physical injury, assault with a deadly weapon on Peace officer 245(c), exploding a destructive device with the intent to cause injury 18740, assault with a deadly weapon 245(a)(1) and 245(a)(4), domestic violence 273.5, battery with serious bodily injury 243(d), and even rape/sodomy/oral copulation of an unconscious person or by use of date rape drugs 261(a)(3) ; (4), 286(f), 288a(f)” (Hanisee).
I agree with the issue that was addressed and the plan with what to do with the money that will be saved after the implementation of propositions 47 and 57 with Assembly Bill 109. However, I do not agree that this is the only way to generate money, and the safety for all other citizens should be above monetary safety. Also, everything sounds very helpful for those unfortunate ones who are in prison for one bad mistake. I understand a lot of people deserve second chances. But whenever I take into consideration that list of awful crimes that are not considered to be violent, and the rejection of previously proposed senate bill 75 that would have redefined a “violent felony” to include those crimes, I cannot help but feel very unsafe. These non-violent felons might actually be very violent indeed. Plus non-violent felons can reduce their time served by half through unlimited “good behavior” credits. In addition to all these points, I am sure that politicians aren’t always honest about how they say they spend money. The state administration claims to spend all savings on social programs. Given the facts, along with a healthy dose of skepticism, I would advise the American people to consider closely before deciding if these legislative pieces are indeed beneficial to our community.
CVAA = http://www.cvactionalliance.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/AB-109-Fact-Sheet-4_11_draft_final.pdf
Hanisee = http://www.cityofmonrovia.org/home/showdocument?id=8996
Cjcj = http://www.cjcj.org/news/11922
Prop 57 = https://vig.cdn.sos.ca.gov/2016/general/en/pdf/prop57-title-summ-analysis.pdf
Prop 47 = https://vig.cdn.sos.ca.gov/2014/general/pdf/proposition-47-title-summary-analysis.pdf