As California undergoes the largest overhaul of parole in a generation, determining which criminals are violent has taken on a new urgency among some lawmakers and law enforcement officials who argue it’s time to revisit how “violent crime” is legally defined, the Los Angeles Times reports. Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposition 57, which voters overwhelmingly approved in November, continues an effort to increase rehabilitation services and decrease the prison population. The initiative will give new power to the state parole board to consider the early release of prisoners who have served the full term of their primary sentences, and whose crimes are not designated as “violent” under the California penal code. Debate has brewed over just who the law will benefit, with prosecutors arguing the state’s short and porous violent felony list could allow dangerous inmates to walk free.
State Sen. Patricia Bates has filed a bill to reclassify more than 20 offenses as violent felonies, such as inflicting injury on a child or assaulting an officer with a deadly weapon. “There are many of them that really need a second thought,” she said. “If you put yourself in the position of a victim in any one of those crimes, you will say, ‘That was violent because that affected me physically and emotionally.’ ” Corrections officials have until October to develop a set of regulations to expand prison programs that offer incentives for good behavior and participation in rehabilitation, and that govern who is eligible for early parole and when. Brown has excluded all sex offenders from early parole consideration, whether their crimes were designated as “violent” or not. The violent felony penal code dates to 1976 and has been expanded over the years. It includes obvious violent crimes like murder and sexual abuse of a child. It excludes others, such as some rape crimes and domestic violence.