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Proposition 57 – Criminal Sentences - CCC SUPPORTS

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Official Title:  Criminal Sentences. Juvenile Criminal Proceedings and Sentencing. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.  (Read How is the California Constitution Amended?)

CCC Position:  SUPPORT

Question and Answers about Proposition 57

Overview:

Proposition 57, also known as the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, would make various changes to California's criminal sentencing laws to increase opportunities for parole for felons convicted of non-violent crimes and provide them additional opportunities to earn credits for good behavior.

Specifically, Proposition 57 would amend the State Constitution to specify that any person convicted of a non-violent felony offense and sentenced to state prison shall be eligible for parole consideration after completing the full term for his or her primary offense.   Under current law, some offenders are sentenced for a primary offense but have additional terms added for lesser offenses or sentence enhancements.  Therefore, some of these offenders could be released on an expedited basis, after serving the term for their primary offense.

Proposition 57 would also authorize the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to award credits to inmates for good behavior and for achieving certain rehabilitative or educational goals.  State law currently provides for certain credits (such as for good behavior, or for participating in work, training or education programs) but restricts the amount of credits that certain inmates can earn.  Under Proposition 57, CDCR could authorize credits beyond the current limits.

Proposition 57 also makes changes to certain juvenile court proceedings.  Specifically, it changes existing law to require that all youths have a hearing in juvenile delinquency court before they can be transferred to adult criminal court.  As a result, prosecutors would no longer be able to file charges directly in adult criminal court, and juvenile court judges would instead be required to make that determination first.  Prosecutors were given the authority to directly file charges against juvenile offenders in adult court under Proposition 21 in 2000. 

Fiscal Impact:

According to the Legislative Analyst Office (LAO), Proposition 57 could result in net state savings that could range from the tens of millions of dollars to low hundreds of millions of dollars annually due to a reduction in the prison population and additional paroles granted and credits earned.  The proposition could also result in net county costs that could range from the millions to tens of millions of dollars annually.  However, these cost estimates could vary widely depending on such factors as the discretion exercised by the Board of Parole Hearings in determining whether to grant inmates parole and CDCR in determining whether to grant additional credits.

CCC Position:  SUPPORT

California Bishops Support Proposition 57 - The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act

·         Punishment for its own sake is never an adequate response to crime

·         Brings common sense to juvenile court proceedings

·         Victims must have a central place in our justice system

The California Catholic Conference (CCC) of Bishops offers its support for Proposition 57: The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act.  This balanced approach to the criminal justice system in our state would advance the well-being of our residents and communities by re-focusing our collective efforts on rehabilitation, treatment and education programs.  In addition, the initiative will place the decision to try juveniles as adults into the hands of those who best understand the intricacies of dealing with young people – the juvenile court.

Every day, in our parishes and ministries, we witness the devastating impact of crime on the people and families of our communities.  Victims, whose lives have often been shattered, search for answers, look for healing and seek an opportunity to voice their needs.  Families of perpetrators hide their pain, alone in their anguish and afraid to ask for help.  And the incarcerated fruitlessly search for hope as programs that offer the possibility of rehabilitation are scrapped in lieu of the high costs of prison construction.

Through chaplaincies, prison ministries, parish outreach and other efforts, people of faith respond to the Gospel call and minister to all people impacted by crime.  But we can, and society must, do more.  Proposition 57 is a much needed first step.  Our public policies include many elements of punishment, but that is not sufficient to prevent crime, heal victims and restore relationships and harmony in society:

[A] Catholic vision of crime and criminal justice can offer some alternatives.  It recognizes that root causes and personal choices can both be factors in crime by understanding the need for responsibility on the part of the offender and an opportunity for their rehabilitation. A Catholic approach leads us to encourage models of restorative justice that seek to address crime in terms of the harm done to victims and communities, not simply as a violation of law.  [Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective On Crime And Criminal Justice, A Statement by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2000]

The threats to human dignity endemic to the current criminal justice situation in California demand our attention both as a people of faith and as residents of California.  As we recognize and appreciate the dignity of others, together we build stronger, safer communities.

Many policy initiatives like “three strikes” laws and longer and mandatory sentences have tried – and failed – to correct our dysfunctional criminal justice system.  The lack of resources for crime prevention has only led to overcrowded prisons, foreseeable recidivism rates and unsafe communities.  These policies often result from fear, a natural spontaneous response to violence.  We are called to take more constructive action by designing policies that employ resources most effectively, are based on the best available research and offer reasoned approaches.   Appropriate and wisely-developed policies – such as offered in Prop 57 – will actually result in safer communities rather than a continuous cycle of crime and incarceration.

The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act offers alternatives: an increase in public safety leading to less crime; programs to promote healing and rehabilitation; the means to deal with offending juveniles as the wounded children that they are; placing more decisions in the hands of impartial judges; and a chance at parole for non-violent offenders.

In the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we have a special call to address the difficulties characteristic of our current criminal justice system.  As Pope Francis has said:

In the broad context of human social relations, when we look to crime and punishment, we cannot help but think of the inhumane conditions in so many prisons, where those in custody are often reduced to a subhuman status in violation of their human dignity and stunted in their hope and desire for rehabilitation. The Church does much in these environments, mostly in silence. I exhort and I encourage everyone to do more, in the hope that the efforts being made in this area by so many courageous men and women will be increasingly supported, fairly and honestly, by the civil authorities as well.  [World Day of Peace Message, 2014.]

We respectfully urge the citizens of California to prayerfully and conscientiously study this situation and support the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act, Prop 57, on the November 2016 ballot.

Support:

Supporters of Proposition 57 include Fair Sentencing for Youth, Californians for Safety and Justice, Governor Jerry Brown, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, Newt Gingrich, the Chief Probation Officers of California and the California Catholic Conference. 

Supporters state that, over the last several decades, California’s prison population has exploded by 500 percent, and prison spending has ballooned to more than $10 billion every year.  At the same time, too few inmates have been rehabilitated.  Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered the state to reduce it prison population.  Backers argue that Proposition 57 saves taxpayer dollars by reducing wasteful spending on prisons; keeps the most dangerous offenders locked up while allowing parole consideration for people with non-violent convictions who complete the full prison term for their primary offense; authorizes a system of credits that can be earned for rehabilitation, good behavior, and education milestones; and requires judges instead of prosecutors to decide whether minors should be prosecuted as adults, emphasizing rehabilitation for minors in the juvenile system.  

Supporters also assert that evidence shows that the more inmates are rehabilitated, the less likely they are to re-offend.  Further evidence shows that minors who remain under juvenile court supervision are less likely to commit new crimes.  In addition, proponents of the proposition claim that no one will be automatically released or entitled to release from prison under Proposition 57.  To be granted parole, all inmates, current and future, must demonstrate that they are rehabilitated and do not pose a danger to the public.   

Opposition:

Opponents of Proposition 57 include the San Francisco Police Officers Association, the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, and the California District Attorneys Association. 

Opponents contend that the measure is poorly drafted and deems certain serious crimes “non-violent” thus making perpetrators of these crimes eligible for early parole and release into local communities.  Examples of crimes that would be deemed “non-violent” include rape by intoxication, rape of an unconscious person, human trafficking involving sex act with minors, drive-by shooting, assault with a deadly weapon, and domestic violence involving trauma.   

Those arguing against the proposition further believe that Proposition 57 permits the worst career criminals to be treated the same as first-time offenders and that it effectively overturns key provisions of Marsy’s Law, “3-Strikes and You’re Out”, and the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act – measures enacted by voters that have protected victims and made communities safer.  Opponents also maintain that this measure will re-victimize Californians with every new parole hearing, and that it will likely result in higher crime rates as at least 16,000 dangerous criminals would be eligible for early release.   

Reflections on Church Teaching:

The protection of society and its members from violence and crime is an essential moral value. Crime, especially violent crime, not only endangers individuals, but robs communities of a sense of well-being and security, and of the ability to protect their members. All people should be able to live in safety. Families must be able to raise their children without fear. Removing dangerous people from society is essential to ensure public safety. And the threat of incarceration does, in fact, deter some crime (e.g., tougher sanctions for drunk drivers along with a public education campaign seem to have dramatically reduced the numbers of intoxicated drivers on our roadways). However, punishment for its own sake is not a Christian response to crime. Punishment must have a purpose. It must be coupled with treatment and, when possible, restitution. — U.S. Bishops, Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration (2000)

Victims and their families must have a more central place in a reformed criminal justice system. Besides the physical wounds some victims suffer, all victims experience emotional scars that may never fully heal. And since a majority of offenders are not apprehended for their crimes, these victims do not even have the satisfaction of knowing that the offender has been held accountable. This lack of closure can increase victims' fears and make healing more difficult. — U.S. Bishops, Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration (2000)

At the same time, a Catholic approach does not give up on those who violate these laws. We believe that both victims and offenders are children of God. Despite their very different claims on society, their lives and dignity should be protected and respected. We seek justice, not vengeance. We believe punishment must have clear purposes: protecting society and rehabilitating those who violate the law. — U.S. Bishops, Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration (2000)

We believe a Catholic vision of crime and criminal justice can offer some alternatives. It recognizes that root causes and personal choices can both be factors in crime by understanding the need for responsibility on the part of the offender and an opportunity for their rehabilitation. A Catholic approach leads us to encourage models of restorative justice that seek to address crime in terms of the harm done to victims and communities, not simply as a violation of law. — U.S. Bishops, Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration (2000)

To learn more about Restorative Justice issues in California, visit our website at http://www.cacatholic.org/restorative-justice