Poorly written Proposition 57 deserves your ‘no’ vote

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims is co-chair of the statewide ‘No on 57: Stop Early Release of Violent Criminals’ campaign.
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims is co-chair of the statewide ‘No on 57: Stop Early Release of Violent Criminals’ campaign. The Fresno Bee file

It’s hard to imagine a more poorly conceived and written ballot measure than Proposition 57, which would amend the California Constitution so that so-called “nonviolent” felons could more easily parole out of prison and return to society.

While we recognize that California’s tough-on-crime approach of the 1990s came with serious consequences such as prison overcrowding and massive spending on incarceration, Gov. Jerry Brown’s initiative is a blatant attempt at “pass it now and we’ll figure it out later” reform.

Details matter – especially when seeking to rewrite our state Constitution. Proposition 57 is seriously lacking important specifics. Most blatant: Its authors did not define “nonviolent” crime. This glaring lack of precision is reason enough to vote “no.”

According to prosecutors and law enforcement leaders, the proposition’s fuzzy language opens prison doors for the early release of felons convicted of crimes such as domestic violence, sexual trafficking of minors, arson and assault with a deadly weapon.

In addition, the proposition’s critics say, rape of an unconscious person would fall into the nonviolent category.

The problems with this proposition go on and on. Each provides another reason to mark “no” on your ballot.

Sentence enhancements – extra years added by judges or in accordance with voter-approved propositions – could be disregarded by parole boards.

The proposition fails to account for the very different threats posed to communities by felons who are first-time offenders and those with extensive criminal histories.

According to the California District Attorneys Association, Proposition 57 “provides prison officials with broad authority to award increased conduct credits, including to murderers and rapists.”

Then there’s the fact that the grandly titled “Public Safety & Rehabilitation Act of 2016,” according to the district attorneys association, “provides no funds or any other provisions to develop or expand rehabilitative programs.”

From our perspective, Proposition 57 is likely to make communities less safe and it offers no new investment in real rehabilitation.

Wait, we are not done.

Proposition 57 follows Gov. Brown’s Assembly Bill 109 “realignment” shift of inmates to county jails and voter approval of Proposition 47, which reduced some drug and property felonies to misdemeanors. As a result of these changes, state prison beds are now occupied almost entirely by inmates with convictions for serious or violent crimes.

Two years ago, this editorial board opposed Proposition 47, saying that while it had good intentions, it was riddled with flaws. Voters disagreed with us. We hope they mark their ballots with eyes wide open this time.

For the record, our recommendation of a “no” vote on Proposition 57 is backed by 55 of the state’s 58 county district attorneys, and many sheriffs, police chiefs and lawmakers.

If the proponents’ aim is to reduce inmate population, provide rehabilitation opportunities that give convicts a better chance to succeed in society and keep Californians safer, then they – including Gov. Brown – should have come up with a tightly written, thoroughly vetted proposition and not the slapdash proposal on the Nov. 8 ballot.