While I appreciate Matt Rexroad’s willingness to submit an op-ed to the Vanguard on Proposition 57, I strongly disagree with his rationale for opposing Prop. 57.
First, I’m not sure what the Brock Turner case has to do with Prop. 57. After all, if you believe there was a problem with the judge’s sentence, it has nothing to do with early release. Legislative action – rightly or wrongly – plugged the loophole in the law that separated rape by force from rape by intoxication.
I assume Mr. Rexroad’s comments originate with the ballot argument against Prop. 57, which argues, “The authors of Proposition 57 claim it only applies to ‘non‐violent’ crimes, but their poorly drafted measure deems the following crimes ‘non‐violent’ and makes the perpetrators eligible for EARLY PAROLE and RELEASE into local communities…” This includes, they say, “rape by intoxication and rape of an unconscious person.”
Matt Rexroad, as well as the opponents to Prop. 57, make the argument that “Prop. 57 doesn’t specify what constitutes ‘serious violent crime.’”
He writes, “As a result, this loophole allows early release of criminals who have committed such crimes as rape of an unconscious person, date rape, hate crime causing physical injury, shooting a gun on school grounds, sex trafficking of a minor, drive-by shooting, assault with a deadly weapon, hostage taking, attempting to bomb a hospital or school, arson, lewd acts against a 14-year-old, supplying a firearm to a gang member, false imprisonment of an elder through violence and on and on.”
The problem is that, while perhaps that is true, the fundamental flaw is that eligibility for early parole and release is not the same as actual early parole or release.
Why? Because even if you are eligible for parole, it doesn’t mean you will get parole. This week, Charles Manson’s disciple, Tex Watson, was denied parole for the 17th time. An extreme example, but clearly, even at age 70, the parole board felt he was still a danger to society.
Just because someone is eligible for parole does not automatically release anyone from prison. There is a process to be granted parole – they have to demonstrate that they are rehabilitated and do not pose a danger to society.
One of the commenters put numbers to this. The Board of Parole conducted suitability hearings for 5300 inmates during the year 2015. Only 902, or 17 percent, were granted.
Parole boards are made up of law enforcement officials who determine whether the person is suitable for release. They are inherently conservative. So the idea that Prop. 57 is going to spawn the early release of dangerous criminals is fear mongering.
Prop. 57 may be slightly broad on definitions of violent criminals, but that doesn’t mean a parole board is going to let a dangerous rapist go free who has not demonstrated clear rehabilitation and that they are not a danger to society.
So what does Prop. 57 do? For one thing, it will end a process called direct filing, where juveniles are automatically under some circumstances tried as adults. Right now, certain crimes keep young offenders from the juvenile justice system, forcing them into the more punitive system.
As the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) notes, “Direct file bars hundreds of young people each year from the juvenile justice system, relegating them instead to more punitive adult criminal courts. From there, youth as young as 14 years old can be subjected to a lengthy prison sentence and incur a lifelong felony conviction. Despite the high stakes, prosecutors make direct file decisions within 48 hours, without the statutory parameters that guide juvenile court judges when making these determinations.”
Reports suggest that “a youth’s likelihood of being direct filed in adult criminal court varies depending on his or her location, race, and ethnicity.”
Here in Yolo County, a case we are covering saw a bunch of 15-year-olds direct filed when the DA put gang charges on them. But the gang charges were thrown in during the preliminary hearing by a judge. The DA then dropped the charges, refiled, and went the grand jury route to keep the gang charges on the kids and keep them in the adult system.
The CJCJ study found that “Republican DAs direct filed African American youth at five times the rate of white youth, and overall, they direct filed youth at 2.4 times the rate of Democratic DAs, even when accounting for county differences in violent felony arrests.”
Under Prop. 57, a judge and not the DA would make the call on whether the case should be an adult case or a juvenile case.
Proponents of Prop. 57 argue, “We know what works. Evidence shows that the more inmates are rehabilitated, the less likely they are to re‐offend. Further evidence shows that minors who remain under juvenile court supervision are less likely to commit new crimes. Prop. 57 focuses on evidence‐based rehabilitation and allows a juvenile court judge to decide whether or not a minor should be prosecuted as an adult.”
But again, most importantly, “No one is automatically released, or entitled to release from prison, under Prop. 57.”
They argue, “To be granted parole, all inmates, current and future, must demonstrate that they are rehabilitated and do not pose a danger to the public. The Board of Parole Hearings—made up mostly of law enforcement officials—determines who is eligible for release. Any individuals approved for release will be subject to mandatory supervision by law enforcement.”
Under the current system, we are talking 17 percent of those eligible get released. Under Prop. 57, that percentage probably goes down.
—David M. Greenwald reporting