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By Matt Cortina
In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California’s prisons were so overcrowded that they violated the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—that is, getting locked up in California constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
So, Prop. 47 was passed to help reduce prison numbers—it reduced certain crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, like shoplifting, grand theft, receiving stolen goods, forgery and fraud, if the property ultimately stolen did not exceed $950. The state’s average daily prison population has dropped by about 8,000 inmates since Prop. 47, and the state estimates a range of $100-$200 million in savings over the next two years.
Critics, however, say that Prop. 47 has led to an increase in residential burglaries and thefts, an overall state-wide increase in crime.
All of that is a primer for Prop. 57. If passed, Prop. 57 would give people convicted of “non-violent” crimes more chances for parole.
The reason why “non-violent” is consistently in quotes is because although it’s used in the ballot proposition title, it is arguably the biggest point of contention for those in opposition to Prop. 57. The issue is that the proposition does not indicate which “non-violent” felonies will be included in the program, and the state of California only lists 23 crimes as “violent.” That said, anything that’s not included in those 23 items is considered “non-violent,” even if those felonies certainly seem violent—opponents point to the fact that inmates convicted of such crimes as assault with a deadly weapon, domestic violence and rape could be released under Prop. 57.
So what would be the mechanism to determine if an inmate falls into the gray area where he or she has committed a “non-violent” crime but one that most people would consider violent?
Proponents point to the assertion that no inmate would automatically be given release, and that every inmate subject to potential release under Prop. 57 would have to go before the Board of Parole Hearings, which is made up of law enforcement officials. Proponents also cite that inmates would have to “demonstrate that they are rehabilitated,” and would be subject to ongoing mandatory supervision.
If passed, the measure would immediately affect up to 7,000 inmates convicted of “non-violent” crimes, with 18,000 more potentially eligible for early parole.
Both sides point to the clause in the proposition that it would reward inmates with good behavior as a reason to vote one way or the other—proponents claim it encourages rehabilitation for inmates by incentivizing good behavior; opponents claim it allows inmates convicted of “violent” crimes like murder and rape an opportunity to be released without fully serving their time.
For Prop. 57
California Democratic Party, Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, California State Law Enforcement Association, California Federation of Teachers
Contributions for Prop. 57
Fund for Policy Reform (nonprofit): $6,140,000
Governor Brown’s Ballot Measure Committee: $4,138,764
California Democratic Party: $2,046,908
Million Voter Project Action Fund: $2,010,000
Tom Steyer: $1,500,000
Against Prop. 57
California Republican Party, Rep. Bill Brough, and dozens of district attorneys, county sheriffs and police organizations
Contributions against Prop. 57
No on 57: $758,483
Los Angeles Police Protective League Issues PAC: $869,683.50