L.A. County’s prosecutors are hoping voters will support an initiative to reform the criminal justice system and address concerns with two previous efforts, Prop 47 and Prop 57, which they say is necessary to keep California safe.
The authors of the Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018 aim to “fix” issues created by Proposition 47, which reduced certain non-violent felonies to misdemeanors after it was approved by voters in 2014. Proposition 57, approved two years later, hastened the release of some non-violent offenders from prisons.
“This initiative is designed to be very balanced. It’s designed to not only keep California safe, but to reduce crime,” said Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert during a press conference in Whittier last week. “It’s designed to make sure people understand that when you rape an unconscious person, when you commit human trafficking, when you commit domestic violence, that yes, you should not be getting out of prison early because that is a violent crime.”
The initiative filed with state officials says it will: “Reform the parole system so violent felons are not released early from prison, strengthen oversight of post release community supervision and tighten penalties for violations of terms of post release community supervision; Reform theft laws to restore accountability for serial thieves and organized theft rings; and expand DNA collection from persons convicted of drug, theft and domestic violence related crimes to help solve violent crimes and exonerate the innocent.”
Among the crimes that would be re-classified as violent felonies are domestic violence, hate crimes and child abduction.
Santa Clarita City Councilman Cameron Smyth said he would personally back the initiative, but said it was too early in the process for the city to have a formal position. The measure was just approved for the signature-gathering phase by Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office in the first week of January. The effort needs about 367,000 signatures to qualify.
“Santa Clarita, like all cities in California, has seen an increase in crime as a result of these measures,” Smyth said.
Michele Hanisee, president of the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys, said the initiative “doesn’t flip the propositions on their head, but corrects some unintended consequences.”
“We support this initiative because it gives us and the police the tools that we need to protect our communities and that is the most important thing to us,” Hanisee said. “It increases supervision of parolees and gives accountability to parole violations back to the courts where it ought to be. It eliminates early release for violent crimes that everyone in the public agrees are violent like rape of an unconscious person and assault on a police officer.”
Hanisee said the initiative would create accountability for repeat theft offenses and help undo DNA restrictions that could inadvertently incarcerate someone.
“It restores DNA collection on misdemeanor crimes,” she said. “It also helps exonerate the innocent.”
Ron Hernandez, the president of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, said Prop 47 and Prop 57 were unclear to voters when they were approved.
“I think if we re-address some of the issues and solve those issues, it will not only make the streets safer for the communities that we protect, but it will also make it safe for those law enforcement officers and (sheriff’s deputies) that go out there and try to protect those communities,” he said.
The initiative comes a week after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors issued a 26-page report on how the county is complying with prison realignment, sometimes known by the legislative bill number AB 109.
The nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California issued a study on recidivism rates in December that said 71.9 percent of offenders on post-release community supervision were rearrested and nearly 57 percent of offenders were convicted. Both statistics are about 2.5 percent higher than they were before prison realignment went into effect in 2011.
“Notably, offenders who received a jail term and no supervision stand out as having better outcomes on all measures of recidivism, when compared with similar individuals released before realignment,” the study said. “This finding suggests we need to carefully consider the complex relationship between supervision and recidivism. While it could simply be easier to detect re-offending when an individual is under supervision, the requirements of supervision could also create more opportunities for non-criminal violations. With a longer follow-up window and more recent data, the relationship between supervision and recidivism, as well as the overall effects of realignment, may change as counties build capacity and experience with evidence-based practices.”
The initiative is one of 41 campaigns approved for signature gathering by the California Secretary of State’s office to potentially be on the November ballot.
Among the high-profile initiatives, one would effectively repeal Senate Bill 1, the gas tax increase approved by the Legislature last year. Multiple initiatives look at splitting up California into different states or seceding from the United States, including one backed by a group that includes anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan.