Few California voters likely know much, if anything, about the state Board of Parole Hearings, from the qualifications of the 12 commissioners to their success in opening the prison gates for only those who can safely return to the streets. Yet Gov. Jerry Brown’s sweeping overhaul of prison parole on the Nov. 8 ballot, Proposition 57, is squarely a question of whether those parole officials should be given additional latitude to offer early release to potentially thousands of prisoners over the next few years, the Los Angeles Times reports. “I feel very strongly that this is the correct move,” Brown told the Times. “I’m just saying, let’s have a rational process.”
Prosecutors contend the governor’s proposal goes too far after several years of trimming down California’s prison population to only the most hardened criminals. They believe the parole board, whose members are gubernatorial appointees, already is swinging too far away from being tough on crime. “They are recommending release of people we never would have expected would have occurred so soon,” said Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey. “I’m concerned about people who really haven’t served a significant amount of time.” Proposition 57 is a proxy for a larger battle over prison sentences. There are sharp disagreements between Brown and many district attorneys over the legacy of California’s long push for new and longer mandatory sentences, a system in which flexibility is often limited to which crimes a prosecutor seeks to pursue in court. The warring sides have painted the ballot measure in the starkest of terms, a choice for voters between redemption and real danger. The proposition would require a judge’s approval before most juvenile defendants could be tried in an adult court, reversing a law approved by voters in 2000. Critics believe prosecutors have wrongly moved too many juveniles into the adult legal system, missing chances for rehabilitation.