In November, Californians voted overwhelmingly to approve California Proposition 57, which was proposed by Governor Jerry Brown as part of an effort to reduce prison populations in our state. Now, there is a hotly debated public review underway to discuss policy changes that could lead to the early release of roughly 9,500 inmates over the next four years.
A Los Angeles CBS affiliate reported last week that it may soon be possible for state prisoners to participate in self-help programs in order to receive credits that can be used for early release.
This new endeavor may help to lower prison populations in California by roughly 7 percent and is linked to the passage of Proposition 57 last year. According to the Los Angeles Times, Proposition 57 “will give new power to the state parole board to consider the early release of prisoners who have served the full term of their primary sentences, and whose crimes are not designated as ‘violent' under the California penal code.”
According to the many lawmakers, police unions, and others opposed to this and other changes enacted under Prop. 57, part of the problem is that some very serious crimes don't currently fall under the state definition of “violent,” and this could lead to the release of some very dangerous individuals into society.
Take, for example, the case of Andrew Luster, who in the early 200s was accused of rape and ditched his $1 million bail to flee to Mexico, where he was captured by a bounty hunter. When returned to court in Ventura County, Luster was convicted of 86 counts of poisoning, sexual battery, and rape of an unconscious or intoxicated person after a jury was shown videos he took of the drugging and assault of three women. In light of the changes made with Prop. 57, the LA Times asks, “With none of his offenses listed among the 23 crimes that California considers ‘violent' felonies in its penal code, does the state consider him a violent felon?” It is highly likely that most citizens would consider him as such, and he is just the type of prisoner who could be granted early release by participating in rehabilitative programs.
Supporters of this new system include individuals who have loved ones serving time in California prison and former prisoners, among others. Carlos Martinez says that participation in self-help programs while in prison helped him make a clean start. He says, “I believe everybody needs a chance in life. If nobody addresses the issue, then they don't know which way to go when they leave those gates.”
That may be all well and good for some prisoners, but under the new law nearly any inmate not on death row or sentenced to life without parole may be eligible to take advantage of early release credits. As Craig Lally, director of the Los Angeles Police Protection League argues, this could not only release some dangerous individuals back into society and it could also be a huge disservice to their victims.
Says Lally, “What about the victims, does anybody care about them because potentially there's 9,500 victims that were involved in this. And also nobody's got their voice. Why do you have to let them out early? They were supposed to do a sentence for a crime, for the bad actions that they did. And there's no accountability.”
Though Governor Brown has excluded all sex offenders from consideration for early parole, there are still a number of crimes many citizens may be shocked to believe are not “violent” enough to prevent participation in this credit program. Others, however, have argued against the expansion of the list of “violent” crimes in California on the grounds that racially-motivated accusations and arrests for such crimes disproportionately affect communities of color.
With extreme overcrowding in California prisons, it is clear that changes need to be made. But is releasing certain criminals early the answer?
As an experienced and highly respected criminal defense attorney serving the Los Angeles area for many years, I have an especially informed and unique perspective on Proposition 57 and how it may impact my clients. To learn more about California prison reform and how the support of a good criminal lawyer can help those accused of crimes achieve justice, please contact me.