By Michele Hanisee
We told the truth about Prop 57 prior to the November 2016 election; that it would free violent felons years early. We said it would free sex offenders. We said it would free criminals whose sentences were enhanced due to prior violent strike offenses. Well, the sex offenders already sued and won their claim that they are entitled to be considered for early release based upon the language of Prop 57. Now the third-strikers with violent criminal histories have done the same and won. An Appellate Court decision this past week made that crystal clear, ruling that under Prop 57, inmates serving three strike sentences for what are clearly violent crimes are entitled to early release even if decades remained on their sentence.
Prop 57 was a poorly drafted, last minute initiative that hijacked another initiative regarding direct filing of juvenile charges. The California Supreme Court ruled that it could go on to the ballot despite failing to comply with a 2014 law prohibiting wholesale changes in pending initiatives and requiring 30 days of public comment. In his dissent, Justice Ming W. Chin cogently noted that Prop 57 was “exactly the sort of measure that would greatly benefit from public comment and the opportunity to make amendments” as they would “easily expose its drafting flaws.”
A key drafting flaw was the farcical claim that Prop 57 only applied to “non-violent” inmates. That is because the proponents failed to define what were “non-violent” crimes, with a legal presumption that any crime not explicitly defined as “violent” would qualify for early release. As we have highlighted time and time again, demonstrably “violent” inmates have been released early thanks to Prop 57, including criminals who have committed horrible beatings and stabbings of women in domestic violence situations and stabbings and assaults on fellow prison inmates and correctional officers.
However, there is a partial fix in 2020 that will help fulfill the promise of Prop 57 proponents to California voters that “violent” inmates would not be eligible for early release under its provisions. The “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act” will be on the ballot, and among other provisions will reclassify crimes currently considered “non-violent” under Prop 57 as “violent,” ensuring inmates serving time in prison for these crimes are ineligible for early release under Prop 57. Because Prop 57 was a constitutional amendment, it will be difficult for the citizens to fix all the bad drafting, but the Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act is a start.
Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.