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Gov. Brown Proposes Ballot Initiative On Sentencing Reform

Gov. Brown Proposes Ballot Initiative On Sentencing Reform

GUESTS:

Bonnie Dumanis, San Diego District Attorney

Susan Fisher, former member, California Board of Parole Hearings

California Gov. Jerry Brown says he wants voters to approve a ballot measure in November that would affect thousands of state prison inmates and significantly change current law.

He announced a proposal Wednesday that could cut the amount of time felons serve in prison and how juveniles are tried as adults.

The Democratic governor said it would increase sentencing credits for inmates who complete rehabilitation programs.

It would also allow non-violent felons to seek parole after they have completed their base sentences and require judges instead of prosecutors to decide if juveniles should be tried in adult court.

Brown scheduled an announcement Wednesday afternoon with law enforcement and faith leaders to make what his office termed a major announcement on public safety reform.

The initiative that Brown is proposing would further reduce the state's prison population, which is under a cap ordered by a panel of three federal judges with backing from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The state is currently under the headcount limit thanks in part to voter-approved ballot measures that reduced penalties for career criminals and those convicted of certain drug and property crimes. But that population is expected to grow again, and the state is making do now by sending inmates to out-of-state prisons and keeping them in rundown facilities within California.

Brown, who is termed out of office in 2018, has about $24 million in his campaign account that he can spend on initiative or candidate campaigns. This is the first time he has said how he intends to use it.

The governor helped create the state's "determinate sentencing" system when he was governor in the 1970s and 1980s, but has previously said he now has regrets that it has led to less discretion. His initiative would change that system by allowing for nonviolent inmates to be paroled earlier, after they complete their base sentences without the numerous enhancements that have been added over the years.

San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis joined Gov. Brown in backing the initiative.

On Thursday's KPBS Midday Edition, she said she supports the idea of holding a fitness hearing before deciding to try juvenile defendants as adults.

"The thing I appreciate in this initiative on that topic is, having been a juvenile court judge for five years, I understand the importance of having a hearing where you get to know all of the facts,” said Dumanis.

Susan Fisher, a former member of California Board of Parole Hearings, told KPBS Midday Edition host Maureen Cavanaugh she is wary of the initiative.

“I think most of the general public would be shocked to find out what some of the crimes are that are considered non-violent ,” said Susan Fisher. She cited burglary as an example.

Dumanis pointed out that California is under a federal court order to reduce its prison population.

“This initiative is intended to finish that process of getting as many people who aren't violent people out of prison,” said Dumanis.

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