by David Taub
If you listen to Valley leaders, you would think Prop 57 would have no chance of passing. Numerous elected officials and law enforcement say its passage will cause irreparable harm to California’s public safety. But unfortunately for them, Prop 57 has $10 million more in the bank and if you believe in polls, support of the public.
The three top names in law enforcement, District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp, Sheriff Margaret Mims and Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer held a news conference Thursday denouncing the measure that would reduce prison time for “non-violent” felons.
“Prop 57 is AB 109 and Prop 47 on steroids,” Dyer told the gathered media next to the downtown criminal courthouse. “We need to stand together in the state of California and defeat this flawed proposition and reduce victimization.”
AB 109 was the prison realignment bill of 2011 that transferred many prisoners to county jails. Voters passed Prop 47 in 2014, which many in law enforcement blame for early release and in influx in crime.
Prop 57, officially titled “The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016” would make prisoners serving non-violent crimes eligible for parole sooner. It would also take away some power from prosecutors in determining whether to try juveniles as adults. It is strongly supported by Governor Jerry Brown, liberal billionaire Thomas Steyer and the Democratic Party. They have raised nearly $10.5 million to get it passed. In contrast, No on 57 has raised a little more than $500,000.
Many local jurisdictions have voiced their disapproval of Prop 57. The Fresno County Board of Supervisors as well as the city councils of Fresno and Clovis recommend 57’s defeat. Smittcamp is joined by 49 other districts attorney against 57 as well.
Yet, a September USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times statewide survey shows Prop 57 with 66% support. It is being championed by Governor Jerry Brown and his Democratic Party.
At the news conference, Dyer and Mims highlighted the increase in crime after the passage of Prop 47. In a letter to supporters of No on 57, Mims points out double-digit increases in Fresno County crime in 2015, the year Prop 47 was implemented. Among the increases were forcible rape (50%), burglary (26%), robbery (23%) and assault (15%).
Fresno defense attorney and Prop 57 supporter Charles Magill dismisses those increases due to Prop 47. “That bump in crime was consistent throughout the country. When you see crime like it does, it is usually a population issue, dealing with an age group of people that come into the criminal justice system from 18-25.”
Smittcamp says that what is legally defined as a violent crime does not include many criminals convicted of rape, sex trafficking of a minor, hate crimes, drive-by shootings, assault with a deadly weapon, hostage taking and lewd acts against a child.
SEIU 2015 is a union that supports the bill. “We believe strongly in the ability for people to have the right and resources to rehabilitate themselves, ” says Arnulfo De La Cruz, an officer with SEIU
Some in the law enforcement community do support Prop 57. Mark Bonini is the Chief Probation Officer in Amador County and president of the Chief Probation Officers of California. “If we are serious about cutting recidivism and lowering our prison population, we have to have a system that we know, as experts in the field, changes criminal behavior,” Bonini said.
Bonini believes Prop 57 will rehabilitate prisoners. “It allows an offender to get to parole board sooner. I allows an offender to take advantage of programming that is going to be placed in the institutions that is based on correctional science. Evidence has shown that what they are attending and completed works and gets them potentially back on the streets earlier rather than later. “
Smittcamp disagrees. “What do they have to do to get out? The answer is nothing. That is another smoke and mirrors that the governor is trying to put out there. The inmates statutorily get credit for being in prison. They get good time credit if they just don’t commit crimes while in prison. There is nothing in (57) that requires them to receive their GED, engage in substance abuse counseling or engage in anger management counseling. It is a get out of jail free card.”
The SEIU’s De La Cruz supports Prop 57 because he believes it will make the streets safer. “What we are talking about are non-violent individuals- people in the juvenile justice system. I would say the smartest thing in Fresno County to protect the resources of the county and for us to be able to build together safer communities are not a strategy that would explode the prison population in the state of California and here in Fresno.”