On November 8, Californians will have an important decision to make. Besides electing their candidates of choice, they will say “Yes” or “No” to a new proposition which I consider of vital importance for our state's criminal justice system.
The LA Times recently described Proposition 57 as an attempt to return “to judges, parole boards and prison officials some of the power that craven lawmakers and frightened voters have, over the years, unwisely transferred to prosecutors,” and referred to it as a “welcome and needed measure.”
Meanwhile, critics are calling it a “Get out of jail early card.” If the proposition is passed, felons convicted of nonviolent crimes will have more opportunities to become eligible for parole, and it will fall on judges, rather than prosecutors, to decide whether certain defendants under 18 should be tried as adults in court.
Eligibility for parole under Prop. 57
- Convicted of nonviolent felony
- Full sentence served for primary offense
- Passed screening for public security
(The current number of eligible inmates would be around 7,000 according to estimates)
The fact is that for people who are not aware of the unfair treatment defendants routinely receive in California's courts, Proposition 57 may sound like a measure that favors criminals and wrongdoers. California's prisons are overcrowded, and the system's thirst for convictions often results in innocent and harmless individuals being incarcerated.
When it comes to trying juveniles as adults, it was a 2000 proposition that gave prosecutors the power to transfer juveniles to adult court. In practice, it was nonwhite youth that suffered the most from the legislation over the years.
Thus, we ended up with jails full of individuals who were tried with a racial bias in early youth, and never got a second chance.
Proposition 57 is important because it limits the seeming omnipotence of California prosecutors, offering opportunities for nonviolent individuals who might have made a mistake during their youth to prove that they are ready to rejoin society.
It is important to emphasize that the measure does not propose releasing prisoners, but merely increasing parole hearing instances.
The fact that juveniles should be tried as such unless a judge decides otherwise should be beyond discussion. Sadly, it is not, and, at present, prosecutors, who have a vested interest in the matter, can make these decisions unilaterally.
For Governor Jerry Brown, who is sponsoring the proposition, “its essence is to provide an incentive” by creating opportunities for inmates to earn credits for educational and rehabilitative achievements.
Ultimately, Proposition 57 is about justice and making the system fairer than it is now. Hopefully, facts will prevail in spite of those who wish to instill fear in the population, spreading the utterly misguided notion that the new regulation will put dangerous criminals out on the street. Because nothing is further from the truth.