California voters will likely be asked this fall to overhaul the state’s criminal justice sentencing system. On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown announced he’ll do “whatever it takes” to pass the ballot measure.
Under California’s current system, inmates serve prison time not just for the crime they committed, but also extra time for “enhancements” such as gang involvement or gun possession. The “Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016” would allow nonviolent inmates to be paroled after just serving their basic sentences – if they earn credits for good behavior, education and rehabilitation.
“It will allow individuals to take real control of their lives, it will allow judges to take back their power of judging, and all in all, that to me will help reduce recidivism and make for a much safer community,” Brown said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck was among a handful of law enforcement leaders who joined the governor as he made the announcement. Beck noted the state faces court-ordered inmate releases if it does not reduce its prison population.
“This will effectively open up bed space for people that richly deserve to be there, rather than ones whose lives we can change and who are in there for nonviolent offenses,“ Beck said. “We have a very finite resource and we have to use it effectively.”
But some statewide law enforcement groups, including sheriffs, are expected to raise concerns about the initiative. And legislative Republicans say the proposal would make Californians less safe.
“Recent changes in sentencing laws have contributed to the rising crime rate in local communities throughout California,“ Asm. Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) said in a statement. “The Governor’s proposal today promises more of the same. Assembly Republicans support giving local officials the tools they need to properly rehabilitate criminals. However, protecting Californians and our communities must come first.”
The governor’s office estimates that approximately 1,300 current inmates would be affected.