By Shaun Rundle, Legislative & Region Affairs Representative.
The last few years of criminal justice reform in California has appeared to favor offenders over victims. Serious criminals are being released earlier, felonies have been reduced to misdemeanors, and public safety officers are left with the cleanup. The 2017 legislative year was no exception, and CPOA took a stand against many legislative proposals that fell under the spell of these recent trends.
When AB 109 or ‘realignment” hit in 2011, many felons serving time in prison were sent down to county jails due to prison overcrowding and a United States Supreme Court order. That was the start of the recent downward spiral in public safety in California. AB 109 resulted in about 1 in 500 to be considered “non-serious, non-violent and non-sex related.” Many serious offenders were released back onto the streets, under the supervision of county probation officers. In addition, by sending serious and often violent criminals to local jurisdictions, AB 109 still contributes to skyrocketing medical costs at the local level as counties now have to treat the mental and physical health conditions that were covered under state prison budgets for these serious offenders.
A few years after realignment comes Prop 47, which CPOA opposed. This November 2014 ballot measure reduced certain felony sentences to misdemeanors, such as stealing a gun. Again, serious and violent offenders that should be in prison were now in county jail and many were back on the streets within days and weeks after it was passed by the voters. Prop 47 was presented to the public as the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act,” yet it made neither neighborhoods nor schools safer in California. In fact, violent crime in California jumped 10% in 2015. Local public safety agencies are still dealing with aftermath, and are often witnessing repeat offenders released from county jail under misdemeanor crimes.
Next comes Propositions 57 and Prop 64 in 2016. Prop 57 allowed for earlier parole consideration for certain nonviolent felony offenses. Some of these “nonviolent” crimes, however, include rape, domestic violence, vehicular manslaughter and arson. Oh, and not to mention assault with a deadly weapon. Passed the same day as Prop 57 was Prop 64, the legalization of adult recreational marijuana use in CA. Prop 64 was modeled after marijuana legalization in Colorado, yet that state has witnessed a number of serious problems post legalization, including a staggering rise in emergency room visits per year related to marijuana use. California law enforcement warned Governor Brown and the public about the perceived expectations here, and now the California Highway Patrol has the enormous task of conducting impaired driving studies in response to Prop 64.
The California Peace Officers Association opposed both Prop 57 and Prop 64 in 2016.
Now in 2017, the Legislature made several attempts this year to give more rights and powers to offenders. Bills were introduced (and some even sit on the Governor’s desk) attempting to allow offenders convicted of offense before he or she was 18 years of age for which a life sentence without the possibility of parole was imposed eligible for parole under a youth parole hearing after his or her 25th year of incarceration (SB 394-Lara). In addition, the Legislature passed and Governor Brown signed just last week SB 54, the media-christened “Sanctuary State” law that cuts off communications between locals and federal authorities. This continued trend is deeply troubling to CPOA.