Wily politician that he is, Jerry Brown tried to dampen potential opposition to an overhaul of criminal sentencing laws he’ll place on the November ballot.
Brown met with some – but not all – law enforcement groups and made some tweaks in response to their criticism.
He closely guarded details of the “Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016” until just before his announcement late last month.
He even submitted it as an amendment to a pending ballot measure dealing with juvenile justice, thereby virtually eliminating any chance for opponents to influence “title and summary” processing by the Department of Justice.
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However, one major group Brown didn’t consult beforehand – the California District Attorneys Association – has declared its opposition.
The CDAA’s members decided Wednesday to oppose Brown’s measure after finally getting a face-to-face meeting with the governor and delivering an analysis labeling its provisions “drastic changes to our sentencing laws” that significantly undermine “more than four decades of criminal justice policies approved by the Legislature and California voters …”
The measure would, the prosecutors allege, directly or indirectly repeal even the “three strikes and you’re out law” mandating life terms for repeat felons, adopted by voters in 1994, as well as other “sentence enhancements” for habitually violent offenders.
Through a spokesman, Brown pushed back, saying, “The DAs have a long record of opposing sensible criminal justice reforms, and their opposition here is no exception. Their 28-page campaign document is disappointing, replete with distortions and hyperbolic rhetoric and inconsistent with public safety.”
He did not, however, answer the DA allegations in detail.
Brown said his measure is aimed at rolling back the so-called “determinate sentence law” that he signed during his first governorship in 1977.
By reducing sentences for some crimes and making it easier for inmates to be paroled, it also would hold down California’s prison population, which once topped 160,000 but since has dropped sharply by federal court order.
Brown touted an endorsement by San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, but apparently all other DAs will oppose it. Merced County’s Larry Morse and Ventura County’s Gregory Totten said they sought meetings with Brown prior to his announcement, but were limited to dealing with aides and not allowed to review the measure in advance.
Some other law enforcement groups are weighing whether to join the opposition, but Brown could be in position to affect their decisions.
He’s negotiating with the Correctional Peace Officers Association of California on a new contract, for example, and sheriffs are asking Brown’s administration for hundreds of millions of dollars in jail construction funds.
Finally, Brown has a $24 million campaign treasury he could devote to the measure, while the DAs say they have no campaign war chest.