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Jerry Brown Pushes Earlier Release of Felons Under Proposition 57

October 10, 2016 1:56 p.m.

Jerry Brown Pushes Earlier Release of Felons Under Proposition 57

GUEST:

Marisa Lagos, reporter, KQED

Related Story: Jerry Brown Pushes Earlier Release of Felons Under Proposition 57

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

One of the state propositions on next month's ballot would continue California's retreat from what son feel are excessively harsh prison sentences. Prop 57 would help the state comply with federal mandates to reduce the prison population. Would keep the public safe? Governor Jerry Brown says yes, some law enforcement officials are not so sure. Marisa Lagos politics reporter for KQED has the story.
The first time Jerry Brown as Governor in the 70s, he signed a bill that started the state down a path of tough on crime laws. It did away with open-ended sentences, replacing them with fixed terms. At the time, Brown called the change --
A major perform, scrapping indeterminate sentences to provide a certain, clear punishment for crime.
Now, Brown says that signature was a mistake.
I didn't ink about the fact that when you tell someone they get out at the state, between then and the time they arrive in prison they have no incentive to take classes, to avoid gangs, to follow the rules.
He is now pushing about measure aimed at giving inmates back the incentive to improve themselves. Proposition 57 with that prison officials report offenders with shorter prison terms, if they participate in programs. It would also let inmates serving time for crimes deemed nonviolent, go before the parole board sooner than they can now. Brown says many prison terms are used longer, because of dozens of tough on crime measures approved by voters in lawmakers of the past four decades. Slamming the door on thousands of inmates. At San Quentin, those laws mean inmates like Kurtis Roberts can't make the case they've changed for the better and are ready to leave.
The first him him eligible for parole is the year 2044. That's the first time.
Roberts is 22 years into a 50 year to life sentence. He burglarized his in-laws Kamman and stealing money from a cash register. He says it was to feed a drug habit. He says the hopelessness of his sentence can overwhelm him. He is considered suicide.
The hardest days for me, when a guy that has committed murder goes home, doing less time than me.
Prosecutors oppose proposition 57. They say state law considers heinous cause -- laws as nonviolent. Sacramento attorney Annemarie Schubert worries it will devastate victims.
That is wiped away. How can we tell these victims, how can a judge tell someone this is what he will get in that is all gone.
Governor Brown says dangerous criminals won't be released, the parole board will look at each inmate carefully. DAs are worried about victims Lake Crystal, who did not want her last name used.
He hit you with baseball bats, burned my face with lighters, put cigarettes out in my mouth.
She says testifying was the hardest thing she has ever done. He is now serving a 25 year sentence and she's terrified he could get out early.
It set you back to where you started. The fear, the anxiety.
At San Quentin, Kurtis Roberts is pinning his hopes on voters, even though they helped give him a 50 year sentence.
I billet -- I believe that society would not let this happen.
It is up to voters to decide if proposition 57 is the right balance between punishment and redemption. I Marisa Lagos.
Joining me is Marie so Lagos -- Marisa Lagos. Governor Brown regrets illuminating the broad, unspecified prison terms, which California used to have. Would Prop 57 return us to that system, to the days before the justice reform bill?
Not exactly. It would move the state in a direction towards that. We still have inmates that have determinate and indeterminate sentences. Usually, third strikers have 25 years to life, they could get out at some point. But Brown is saying, it's not politically feasible to do that. I asked him about the sentencing commission and he said that won't happen. That would redo all of our sentences. This would give a lot more, wiggle room to judges and parole boards, making the system less prescribed.
The state court system has been under federal court oversight, for years after judges ruled the overcrowding was unconstitutional in our presence. How does Governor Brown think Prop 57 could help that situation?
He sees this as a final step towards complying with the court order to get the state down to what the Supreme Court and federal courts have said is a reasonable number. It would still be 30% over capacity. He points out a lot of things that Prop 57 would do our -- are happening already. This is his final attempt at a huge policy change. He will do all the things if it passes. Realignment came first, we've seen other measures. He sees this as the lysed -- last final push and getting out from under the court order. He says it would free up money for programs and things that would help with not just public safety and potentially help people get out sooner.
You mentioned state law says many crimes are not classified as violent crimes. That's been one of the most controversial and the key attack against Prop 57. Will people have a hard time figuring out why something like us out with a deadly weapon is not violent?
To explain that, you have to go back to another ballot measure. We really enjoy, it seems. Proposition 21.with juvenile justice and it had a vision that defined under the state penal code, what our vinyl -- violent felonies. Criminal justice measures have relied on that. The Governor says the DAs helped write that, they are responsible for that list and if they wanted to change it, they could. From their point of view, they are now upset that they have an eight-page memo listing the various turns on these violent crimes. Maybe, rape is a violent crime, an unconscious person rape is not. DAs have discretion in deciding what to charge and that they can charge that person with a violent version of that crime. The district attorneys have not attempted to change this through the legislature or at the ballot box. It is a point of debate. It can be a red herring in the sense that, there are plenty of people who might be sentenced under one thing, but could be eligible for another if you charged them that way.
Fixate, one reason the serious crimes are not spelled out in the measure itself is keeping the measure vague and it might get more people to vote for it.
I think that was definitely Jerry Brown's calculation. It was political in that, if you go to voters with something this vague, it opens up more avenues for pushing it into fewer for pushing back. At the same time, this is part of his philosophical approach to governing. He told me, it's not just in criminal justice we are overly prescribed, he pointed out the requirements around how we approach education, the testing and I think he believes the best thing to do, is to give broad guidelines and let policymakers fill in the blanks.
Prop 57 also, let's judges decide whether certain juveniles should be charged as adults or in juvenile court. It would allow for more uniform system for good time credits. To those two provisions attract the same kind of opposition?
The juvenile has not. Most prosecutors who oppose this said if that was the only thing, we would not have a problem. That's because, there's a sense the pendulum swung too far. There is no public safety issue letting judges weigh in. The second portion, I'm surprised opponents have not talked more about it. It's the area that stands to have the biggest impact on our prison population, how we treat a lot of these offenders that have no opportunity under previous reforms like, pop -- I profiled a third striker, he is technically in there for a violent crime. Robbery is considered violent even if no one got hurt. It could apply to him, if it's written in a way that allows third strikers to benefit. To me, that seems like the sort of potentially, most far-reaching part, it's hard to attack the regulations have a bit written. It's a big portion and I will be interested to see if we hear more about that.
I've been speaking with Marisa Lagos.