Yes on 57

I’ve been avoiding Proposition 57 because, without having read the text of the law yet, I assumed it would require cross-referencing with the penal code, and I wanted to set time aside to do that.

I was wrong; it does not require such cross-referencing, because it’s actually very, very simple.

Prop. 57 does three things:

[a] anyone in prison for a nonviolent felony is eligible for parole *consideration* after completing the full term for their primary offense.

[b] The Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“Corrections”) can award good behavior credits.

[c] When kids between the ages of 14-18 commit crimes, instead of being automatically transferred to adult court if the prosecutor follows the procedure needed to do it, will only be transferred to adult court *if a juvenile court agrees to the transfer* after considering the behavioral patterns and social history of the minor.

Prop. 57 is on the ballot at the behest of our Governor, who put it there as part of an attempt to change criminal procedure in the s tate, partly for the purposes of finding a way to comply with a federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding. There’s a good argument that the proposition violates the California Constitution, which requires that initiative propositions be confined to a single subject; the parole-related provisions were tacked on to the juvenile justice change after the initiative was initially submitted, and they don’t really address the same issue. Still, the California Supreme Court said it didn’t violate the single subject rule, and so it’s on the ballot. 🙂

In order to understand the effects of these changes, it’s helpful to look at what happens now. 🙂

===How do criminal sentences and parole currently work?===

Currently, California has two different sentencing schems: “indeterminate sentencing”, in which convicts are sentenced to a variable-length term with a defined minimum and no defined maximum (eg, “25 years to life”), and “determinate sentencing”, in which people are convicted to a fixed term. Prior to the late 1970s, California *only* had indeterminate sentencing, but the stte adopted a determinate sentencing scheme for most offenses during the late 1970s.

For people sentenced to indeterminate sentences, after the *minimum* term is served, the parole board conducts a hearing and considers whether to let the guy out or not. Some people get out; some people don’t get out. The people who don’t get out have another hearing in a couple of years (the length depends on various things). Some people (notoriously Charles Manson and his friends) go to hearing after hearing after hearing and never get out.

For people sentenced to determinate sentences, there is no parole hearing; they automatically get out when their term ends. Furthermore, many non-violent felons serving determinate sentences are currently released at *half* of their prison sentence due to the implementation of a federal court order requiring California to reduce criminal overcrowding.

Some people are sentenced to multiple consecutive sentences because they commit multiple crimes. Consider, for example, someone who was arrested for possessing heroin with intent to sell, but who also had in his possession an amount of cocaine sufficient for personal use. If convicted of *both* offenses, he would be sentenced to two consecutive sentences: one for the heroin, one for the cocaine. As both would be determinate sentences, he would not be eligible for release until he’d served all of both.

=== What does Prop. 57 do to parole? ===

Under the terms of Prop. 57, nonviolent criminals who are sentenced to multiple consecutive sentences because they have been convicted of multiple crimes will be eligible for parole as soon as they have served the time required for their *primary* offense. So, in the example above, the guy would get out when he w as done serving t he time for possessing heroin with i ntent to sell.

=== What are the arguments for and against this part of the proposition? ====

The primary argument *for* this is: the state is under federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding. We’re *not* going to do that by building new prisons (because there’s no money and insufficient political support), and this is one of the lowest-impact ways we can come up with to reduce prison populations: let nonviolent criminals who are in for a long time out earlier.

The primary arguments *against* this are: this will let dangerous criminals loose on the streets of California, and this *in effect* means the criminal isn’t being punished *at all* for his lesser crimes – by punishing him only for the primary crime, the state is allowing him to get away with the other crimes.

The official argument against claims the proposition will reduce sentences for people convicted of raping an unconscious victim, human sex trafficing, lewd acts against a fourteen year old, and other terrible crimes. This is true, but *only* because *existing law* defines these crimes as nonviolent – the initiative doesn’t define nonviolent, it uses the existing definition under state law. That definition can be changed by the legislature at any time.

=== How do early release credits work today? ===

Under state law, inmate sentences can be reduced by a certain amount (it differs among category of crime) for prison labor, participation in education programs, and good behavior. Some prisoners are not eligible due to the nature of their crime.

=== What does Prop. 57 change? ===

Prop. 57 changes the Constitution to allow good behavior credits (which are currently authorized by statute). This will have the effect of increasing the number of people who are able to get them, as it allows Corrections to determine eligibility by regulation (instead of eligibility being spelled out in statute).

=== What are the arguments for and against this part of the proposition? ===

There are two arguments for: (a) we need to reduce prison overcrowding, and (b) rewarding inmates for good behavior, participating in education and training programs, and working *encourages them to do these things*, which both improves management of the prisons AND increases their rehabilitative effect.

The arguments against are: (a) it will let dangerous criminals out on the street, and (b) by extending eligibility to people convicted of various horrible crimes, it reduces the punishment for those crimes, and that’s unfair to their victims and dangerous to the public.

=== How do juvenile justice transfers currently work? ===

Under current law, children aged between 14 and 18, who are accused of cimmitting crimes after they turned 14, are automatically transferred to adult court if they are accused of committing murder or sex offenses with special circumstances, are automatically transferred if a prosecutor alleges that they have a significant criminal history or if they are accused of particular crimes, or they can be transferred via a hearing in front of a juvenile court judge. In 2015, according to the LAO’s analysis, less than 100 juveniles were transferred to adult court via a judicial hearing, and between 500 and 600 juveniles were sent to adult court total.

=== What does Prop. 57 do? ===

Prop. 57 eliminates *all* automatic transfers to adult court and only allows transfers after a hearing in front of a juvenile court judge.

=== What are the arguments for and against this part of the proposition? ===

The arguments for is that allowing a prosecutor to make the decision on their own doesn’t provide sufficient procedural protection to determine whether a juvenile is competent to be tried as an adult.

The argument *against* is that this will allow vicious children to continue to be prosecuted by the juvenile system, which will coddle them and prevent them from learning the lessons needed to keep them from becoming vicious adult criminals.


For me, the case for the third part is compelling: allowing *prosecutors*, on their own without judicial oversight, to decide that children should be tried as adults is a terrible process. It vests the power to decide someone’s *competence* in the hands of a person whose job it is to *prove their guilt*; it creates an inherent conflict of interest and undermines the integrity of the process.

I’m neutral on the first and second part. I’m not screaming for this reform the way I am screaming for other reforms, *and* I’m not opposed to itt; we really do need to reduce our prison population, and reducing sentences for nonviolent offenders, while providing an incentive for both good behavior and participation in rehabilitative programs seems like it’s a great way to do that.

I’m voting yes.