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Four decades ago, Gov. Jerry Brown embraced tough-on-crime laws that filled the state’s prisons. The overcrowding led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule the state must reduce its prison population and improve medical care to inmates. California has moved lower-level prison felons to county jails, and voters approved measures to limit the state’s three-strikes sentencing law and reduce some felonies to misdemeanors. But, prison overcrowding and high costs continue to plague California.
What would it do?
Prop. 57 would increase the number of nonviolent inmates eligible for parole consideration and enable more inmates to earn credits for good behavior. It also lets judges decide whether to try a juvenile as an adult, likely resulting in fewer young offenders being placed in the adult system.
What would it cost thegovernment?
Reductions in prison population would lead to a savings for state government likely in the tens of millions of dollars each year, according to the state legislative analyst. Meanwhile, counties might incur a cost of a few million dollars a year.
Why is it on the ballot?
Gov. Jerry Brown put Prop. 57 on the ballot, arguing that the tough sentencing laws he once embraced have had unintended consequences that over-burdened the criminal justice system. The measure is a piece of his bigger plan to reduce the prison population and save the state money.
What supporters say:
Prop. 57 is a long-term solution that stops wasting costly prison space on non-violent offenders who can be rehabilitated, while keeping dangerous criminals behind bars. It gives judges—instead of prosecutors—the power to decide whether a minor should be tried as an adult, which will improve juvenile justice by reducing racial bias and the number of minors sent through adult courts.
What opponents say:
Prop. 57 is a deceptive measure that could endanger public safety with the early release of inmates convicted of violent crimes such as rape and assault with a deadly weapon. Though the initiative says it only applies to “nonviolent” offenders, the term is broadly defined under California law and applies to certain rapes and assaults.
Show me the money:
- Gov. Brown tells KQED that Prop. 57 is the “greatest step we could take for public safety in California.” In this interview with the Bay Area News Group, Brown explains why his approach to criminal sentencinghaschanged so muchsince the 1970s.
- Prop. 57 is a “grand experiment that puts public safety and innocent citizens at risk,” says San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who is leading the campaign against the measure.
- This is a great piece of broadcast journalism by KQED that explores Prop. 57 from the perspectivesof both an inmate and a crime victim. You’ll likely learn a lot in just 11 minutes.
- In this examination of California’s justice system for young offenders, The Atlantic explains the significance of having judges — instead of prosecutors — decide whether a juvenile is tried as an adult.
- By allowing earlier parole for thousands of California inmates, Prop. 57 could result in the same situation that led to public outrage in the sexual assault case of former Stanford student Brock Turner, the Associated Press reports.