Bee Editorial Calls on California to Reconsider Proposition 89, Requiring Governor Approval of Parole Decisions –
According to the paper’s research, Governor Brown has allowed 106 of 130 convicted killers’ parole releases to stand, which is about 82 percent. Compare that to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who let stand only 27 percent of parole decisions, and Governor Gray Davis who only allowed 9 of 374 (about 2.5%) paroled killers to be released from prison while he was governor.
One glaring exception occurred just two weeks ago in Yolo County as the governor reversed the State Board of Parole Hearing’s parole recommendation for Christopher Michael Fowler, who killed a 22-month-old baby back in 1983. The governor called Mr. Fowler’s lack of remorse “a danger to society.”
According to the DA’s office, on November 1, 1983, Fowler killed 22-month-old Aaron Miller of Woodland.
At the time of the murder, Fowler was watching Aaron for his girlfriend, the child’s mother. Fowler became upset with Aaron when he would not stop crying while Fowler attempted to sleep. Fowler entered Aaron’s room and struck him in the head, shook him, and threw him to the ground, all in front of his 3-year old sister.
When the grandmother, a nurse, arrived, Fowler attempted to prevent her from taking Aaron to the hospital. Aaron died two days later as a result of his injuries.
The State Board of Parole Hearings recommended a parole for Fowler in the latter part of 2010. Several people offered Mr. Fowler employment and he would have had a home with his parents.
However, the governor succumbed to heavy lobbying from Yolo County officials.
The Woodland Police Department and the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office sent letters to the governor, requesting that he reverse the Parole Board’s decision.
Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig issued a statement, “Clearly Governor Brown reviewed all the evidence and made the right call,” said Reisig. “Our community cannot risk having a man who savagely killed a baby for no apparent reason living back among us.”
But such a move begs the question, why have a parole board at all if a governor is consistently overruling them?
The 17-member board is appointed by the governor. Their job, on paper, is to assess whether an inmate poses a continuing danger to public safety. According to a Sacramento Bee editorial however, “In reality, the board rarely recommends parole for aging lifers.”
The irony of overruling the parole board is that the parole board is in fact a political body appointed by a governor ostensibly to carry out his or her vision of criminal justice. And yet, we have governors overruling their boards, and at times succumbing to political pressure and probably also to political effect.
In this case though, the Fowler case is the exception for Governor Brown’s policies, rather than the rule.
The Bee editorial on Saturday laid out the policy implications, “What should the governor do with lifers who have been recommended for parole by the state’s parole board?
They answer their own question stating that, “[Governor] Brown, so far, has tended to respect the decisions of the Board of Parole Hearings, which is the right response.”
The process has been further politicized by Proposition 89 which was passed by the voters in 1988. That initiative requires that the governor personally approve each decision, which includes the authority to reverse the parole board’s decisions.
The Bee’s editorial board notes, “At the time, the Rev. Paul W. Comiskey wrote in the ballot pamphlet that ‘Proposition 89 will politicize decisions about whether to grant or deny parole.’ That is precisely what has happened.”
They add, “For example, early in his tenure Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger mostly followed the recommendations of the parole board in granting parole to aging lifers. Later, however, he backed off. What happened? Crime Victims United of California ran a series of television ads, combined with a rally at the state Capitol, attacking Schwarzenegger for ‘releasing dangerous criminals.’ In the end, of 1,909 lifers recommended by the board for parole, Schwarzenegger rejected 1,400.”
“So now the predictable drumbeat is out hitting Brown for rejecting few of the parole board’s decisions,” they continue.
Perhaps this explains why Fowler was an easy mark for Governor Brown. He killed a baby, the most innocent of all victims. He is only 49 right now. He was himself a kid back in 1983 when the horrible crime occurred and apparently he did not express enough remorse.
The Bee concludes, “Californians need to understand: Our prisons shouldn’t be geriatric wards housing people who no longer threaten public safety. It is time for lawmakers and Californians to reconsider Proposition 89 and eliminate the governor’s role in lifer parole decisions.”
They add, “California is one of just three states – Maryland and Oklahoma are the others – that require the approval of the governor before an inmate sentenced to life in prison may be paroled.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting