Forty years ago, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed harsh, fixed-term sentencing standards into a Draconian law in his state. Now, after more than a decade of denouncing it as an “abysmal failure,” Brown is trying to overturn it with a ballot initiative.
Citing the surge in prison population the reason behind his change of heart, the governor recently announced the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, a measure that would affect thousands of non-violent offenders locked in the state’s correction facilities.
The proposal will reverse the “determinate sentencing” law Brown signed in 1977 during his first term in the office, revolutionizing how nonviolent criminals are punished in California. Not only will it give such inmates the chance to seek parole after serving time on their primary offense, it would also require judges (instead of prosecutors) to decide if juveniles should be tried as adults.
Moreover, the measure would authorize inmates to earn credits toward early release for good behavior, education and rehabilitation. Those who had their sentences prolonged due to secondary offenses or enhancements might also not have to serve the extra time if this proposal is signed into a law.
“It’s pretty dramatic,” said Joan Petersilia, a law professor at Stanford. “With enhancements, a base term of four years can quickly turn into 20 years. In one fell swoop (Brown) is eliminating that.”
The initiative, which is likely to face opposition from some conservatives, will appear on the November ballot if Brown manages to gather enough signatures.
“This says before the add-ons are served, there will be a possibility a person can be considered for parole if their behavior has been exemplary,” Brown explained. “It allows credits to be earned and it allows for parole consideration to be given. Those two experiences depend on the inmate making definite steps to change what got them in prison in the first place.”
The governor’s support of the measure is the first indication of what he will do with $24 million in his campaign account.
“In its essence, it’s to provide an incentive, both reward and punishment, because those who misbehave can lose credits they attain,” Brown added.
Of course, it’s still a long way to go before this measure finally comes into effect, but it’s at least a step in the right direction — a step that might improve the flawed criminal justice and sentencing system to a great extent.