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Crime Victims Rally As Brown Pushes Ballot Initiative

Andrew Nixon/Capital Public Radio

Tracie Stafford is a survivor of domestic violence who now works as a victims advocate. She gave the keynote address at a ceremony near the Capitol.

Andrew Nixon/Capital Public Radio

Victims of crime have held rallies and events around the California state Capitol over the last week. They come at a time when California is shifting away from years of “tough-on-crime” laws, and Governor Jerry Brown pushes a ballot initiative to shift further.

"There’s more than 5,000 ways that the law can be violated," Brown said at an event hosted by the Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice on Monday. "And then on top of that, we have about 400 enhancements, which are ways of extending the penalty."

He argued the legal code has grown too complicated and punitive.

Brown is pushing a ballot initiative that would allow sentence reductions for nonviolent inmates who go through rehab, attend job training and show good behavior.

A day later, at a ceremony a few blocks from the Capitol, survivors expressed mixed feelings about Brown’s initiative.

"I believe that everyone deserves a second chance at life. Whether they deserve it on the streets is another question," said Tracie Stafford, a domestic violence survivor who now works as a victim advocate. "Generally speaking, nonviolent crime, I believe that they should have more opportunity to be rehabilitated."

Naomi Laws' sister was murdered in 1992. She also feels people who have committed nonviolent crimes deserve more latitude, but says it would be hard to tell if someone has committed to rehabilitation or is simply going through the motions to receive time off.

"They need to be accountable for their actions," Laws says. "It wasn’t somebody else who did the crime, it was you. And you not only affect your family, but my family and many others."

In response to a court order to deal with prison overcrowding, the state has reduced sentences for nonviolent inmates especially for drug offenders. The changes came in the 2011 prison realignment and Proposition 47.  

Days after Brown spoke at a rally, the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a victim’s rights group, issued a statement arguing that those policies—and Brown—have increased crime.

Recent studies by state universities and the Public Policy Institute of California have found little change in crime attributable to those measures, so far.