On Wednesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a ballot initiative for November that would allow prison inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses to accumulate credits that would enable them to be eligible for early release.
Those credits could be earned by good behavior, attempts by inmates to rehabilitate themselves, or participation in prison education.
Other nonviolent inmates who completed a full sentence for their primary offense would also be eligible for early release. felons 14 and under would be sent to juvenile or adult court based on the ruling of a judge, as opposed to prosecutors, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The proposal follows Proposition 47 of 2014, which reduced some felonies to misdemeanors and freed some prisoners who had been facing long sentences. It also reverses a stand Brown took almost 40 years ago.
In 1977, in his first term as governor, Brown signed the Determinate Sentencing Law (DSL), which eliminated rehabilitation as a goal of sentencing. In 1977, 20,000 prisoners resided in 12 prisons. By the early 2000s, that population grew to 172,000 with 21 new prisons. By 2003, Brown voiced public regret over his 1977 decision, calling it an “abysmal failure.”
Brown said his new proposal was triggered by the 2009 federal order for California to reduce its prison population. He stated, “By allowing parole consideration if they do good things, they will then have an incentive…to show those who will be judging whether or not they’re ready to go back into society.”
The proposal will require 585,000 valid voter signatures to qualify it for the Nov. 8 statewide ballot.
Kent Scheidegger, the legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, was furious, saying, “It says that if the person is convicted of a burglary of a home, and has prior convictions for rape and murder, he is eligible for parole as soon as he finishes his sentence. And that is insane.”
Patrick McGrath, district attorney of Yuba County, echoed that crime victims would have reason to be upset. He said, “Now, down the line, they’re told 10 year [sentences] are not really 10 years. I think this is very, very corrosive to the faith that the public has ultimately in the criminal justice system.”
Brown has $24 million in his campaign account that he could use to bolster the proposal’s chances.