California Gov. Jerry Brown used a forum for federal judges yesterday to make the case in strong terms that the state’s crime laws have gone too far and inmate behavior should play a greater role in determining the length of a prison stay, the Los Angeles Times reports. He outlined his belief that the fixed-length criminal sentences he approved as governor three decades ago have glutted state prisons with long-stay offenders. Brown called for at least a partial return to times when parole boards alone decided an inmate was ready to be freed. He acknowledged that system was largely dropped for being arbitrary and harsh on racial minorities. Except for those sentenced to life with parole, inmates now serve set terms fixed largely by law.
“Now the whole system is arbitrary,” Brown said. “Instead of disadvantaging a small minority, we now cover the whole system…. In this process we have 5,000 criminal provisions and there are 400 enhancements.” He offered no concrete solution, but suggested parole boards should be given “greater latitude” in deciding, he said, “When is it time to go home?” Finding public support for such changes is a major problem, Brown told members of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit at the outset of a three-day conference on prison litigation. He cited the risk politicians face of being accused of jeopardizing public safety. “It’s very political,” he said. “There’s a lot of fear of what to do.”