By Scott Kernan, CDCR Secretary
I know there are a lot of questions and uncertainties about the November 8 election results, especially relating to Proposition 57 – The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016. This constitutional amendment was overwhelmingly approved by California voters and will have significant impacts. And while I can relate to feelings of apprehension when it comes to change, I do believe – as with so much of the change to the state’s criminal justice system in the last five years – we will work through it together and we will recognize the opportunities it creates. As a law enforcement agency, there is no place for political rhetoric or displays within our prisons or anywhere in our facilities and we must maintain our professionalism.
Proposition 57 does three things:
- It changes the law to allow judges, not district attorneys, to decide if a juvenile is tried as an adult.
- It allows an inmate serving a term for a non-violent offense to serve the full base term of his/her primary offense, exclusive of enhancements or alternative sentences, and be eligible for parole consideration by the Board of Parole Hearings. “Eligible for parole consideration” is the key phrase because an inmate must display sustained progress while in prison, and demonstrate to the board that he or she is not a threat to public safety. That is a high bar that requires individual accountability. It is also important to stress that Proposition 57 does not change the Penal Code in regards to what crimes are considered non-violent.
- Lastly, it gives the correctional professionals in our department the ability to award credits to inmates for good behavior and for completion of meaningful programs and I must certify that such achievement and awarding of credits enhances public safety.
Proposition 57 helps us avoid court-ordered, unearned inmate releases, and instead requires an inmate to do something positive, such as participating in rehabilitative programs and staying out of trouble.
On Election Day, we were about 1,500 inmates under the Federal court-ordered population cap. It is possible that without additional population reduction measures, we would approach or exceed the cap in the next 18-24 months. Should this occur, a Court Compliance Officer would have the authority to release inmates so that we stay under the cap.
Proposition 57 to me is about individual accountability, behavior and achievement. It gives hope to the hopeless that they can change. Through that change, we can enhance public safety and prevent innocent people from being victimized, we can minimize costly court oversight, and we can take resources we currently spend on incarcerating people and divert that money to other public purposes. It is also my hope that these changes will improve the prison environment and the safety of our employees.
It is also encouraging to me that our Governor, with political courage and significant personal involvement, avoided the wholesale release of inmates by the courts without those inmates needing to demonstrate accountability. Governor Brown fought through lawsuits and critical opposition to qualify this measure for the ballot, and he put his name and reputation behind the proposition. With two years left in his storied political career, it would have been much easier and politically expedient to allow the courts to bear the liability of just letting inmates out. Governor Brown believes in an individual’s capacity to change and government’s foremost responsibility to protect public safety. He did not shirk his responsibility on either count and, in my opinion, whether you agree with the proposition or not, displayed leadership to our department and the state.
I know there are a lot of questions from staff, inmates, and our diverse stakeholders on the details of implementation. We are working with the administration and stakeholders to identify the many options, develop regulations, take public comment, and follow the regulatory process through completion. There is no set date yet to conclude this work. Public safety is the highest priority. We will communicate developments to the field as we work through them.
In the meantime, I think the message to all individuals under our supervision, their families, and other interested stakeholders is that behavior and program participation/achievement will be the underlying core of the Proposition 57 regulations.
I wish you all a heartfelt happy and safe Thanksgiving. Thank you for your hard work and dedication in this very challenging and changing profession.