Forty years after signing strict, fixed-term sentencing standards into law – and more than a decade after panning them as an “abysmal failure” – Gov. Jerry Brown said Wednesday he will ask voters in November to
make non-violent prisoners eligible for parole sooner than they currently are.
In a rebuke of criminal enhancements that can extend prison terms for years, Brown’s initiative would make prisoners eligible for parole after serving only their base sentences, while
while emphasizing credits for good behavior,
“The driver of individual incentive, recognizing that there are credits to be earned and there’s parole to be attained, is quite a driver.”
The measure would also allow state prison officials to award credits for good behavior, evidence of rehabilitation and educational achievements.
“rationalize” what he called a “crazy quilt of many different credits,” allowing the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to establish a new system of credits for good behavior, evidence of rehabilitation and educational achievements.
“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,” other than this
“rather mechanical system where the term is very rigid and there’s no opportunity to evaluate their behavior over many, many years in the prison.”
“By allowing parole consideration if (prisoners) do good things ... they will then have an incentive to be able to show those who will be judging whether or not they’re ready to go back into society.”
Brown, speaking to reporters on a conference call, said the “determinate sentencing” law he signed in
“had unintended consequences.”
“And one of the key unintended consequences was the removal of incentives for inmates to improve themselves, refrain from gang activity, using narcotics, otherwise misbehaving, because they had a certain date and there was nothing in their control that would give them a reward for turning their lives around.”
“Nor did I understand that the recidivism rate would sharply increase after the indeterminate sentence was removed.”
doesn’t restore “But it does recognize the virtue of having a certain measure of indeterminacy in the prison system.”
The measure would also undo provisions of Proposition 21, the juvenile justice measure approved by voters in 2000 that allows prosecutors rather than judges to decide when teenagers are tried as adults.
The fourth-term Democrat,
Brown, who helped create the state’s “determinate sentencing” system when he was governor before, has said for years that it needs an overhaul, with a return to greater discretion in sentencing.
“The more we can introduce some indeterminacy into the punishment, the more we can incentivize better behavior,” he said last year.
In a speech to judges in Sacramento in November, Brown said he didn’t foresee the dramatic impact determinate sentencing would have on the growth of California’s prison population. The policy scaled back judicial discretion in prison sentences.
Determinate sentencing was followed in 1994 by voter approval of the “three-strikes” law, requiring stiff sentences for repeat offenders.
By 2003, when he was mayor of Oakland, prisons had become so crowded that Brown told the Little Hoover Commission the reform he signed turned into an “abysmal failure,” giving inmates facing long, fixed terms little incentive to reform themselves.
“The prisons started building up about the time I was leaving,” Brown said in an interview in 2010. “But they didn’t stop. They just kept on going. We see now that the determinate sentence, which I signed, needs substantial revision.”
Brown holds about $24 million in his campaign war chest. Asked if he would finance the initiative, Brown said he will do “whatever it takes to get this done.”
The announcement of his ballot measure Wednesday is the first significant sign of how he plans to involve himself in the November ballot initiative campaigns.
Brown will enjoy a relatively favorable electorate in November, with a high-turnout presidential election typically benefiting Democratic politicians and their causes.
California voters in recent years have also demonstrated a willingness to move away from tough-on-crime policies popular in the last century. In 2014, voters approved Proposition 47, which reduced penalties for some drug and property crimes. Two years earlier, voters passed Proposition 36, revising “three-strikes” to require that the third strike be a violent or serious felony.
Brown said that the initiative followed “intense conversation” with law enforcement groups, representatives of which joined him on the call.
Brown said he considered including violent offenders in the initiative but that it “met with, I would say, near-universal disinterest” from law enforcement.
“It became a non-starter,” he said.
The state’s prison system became a major issue for Brown when he took office in 2011, with a court order to reduce crowding. Brown that year enacted prison realignment, in which the state shifted responsibility for certain low-level offenders from the prison system to counties.
By 2013, Brown insisted that the state had fixed its prison system and that oversight by federal judges was no longer necessary. But in his speech last year, Brown said that while “we’re making a lot of progress ... it’s still not where we need to be.”
Last year, Brown vetoed a slate of crime-related bills, including one focused on date rape, complaining in a veto message about a “multiplication and particularization of criminal behavior” that he said would only make California’s criminal code more complex.
“Over the last several decades, California’s criminal code has grown to more than 5,000 separate provisions, covering almost every conceivable form of human misbehavior,” Brown wrote. “During the same period, our jail and prison populations have exploded.
“Before we keep going down this road, I think we should pause and reflect on how our system of criminal justice could be made more human, more just and more cost-effective.”