Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday accused California district attorneys of spreading propaganda to “spook people” into voting against his November ballot initiative to make nonviolent felons eligible for early parole, while suggesting Proposition 57’s controversial classification of “nonviolent” crimes was based on language the district attorneys themselves once approved.
Brown’s remarks, at an editorial board meeting at The Sacramento Bee, come amid an ongoing feud over what type of inmates Brown’s measure would affect. The California District Attorneys Association and other critics have labored in recent weeks to publicize crimes that, while considered “nonviolent” in state law, are nevertheless serious, including assault with a deadly weapon and certain kinds of rape.
Brown said Monday that “ ‘eligible’ is the key word here,” with parole boards unlikely to release the type of felons that his opponents have featured on trading cards under the headline, “Meet your new neighbor.”
“The propaganda of the ‘no’ side is you’ll only say, ‘yes.’ You’ll never say ‘no,’ which has never happened in the history of the parole business, and it doesn’t happen now,” Brown said. “Most paroles are denied on a yearly basis.”
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Brown’s measure, Proposition 57, does not define what constitutes a “nonviolent” crime, and the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office has said it will apply to any felony not specifically defined in state law as “violent.”
But Brown suggested district attorneys were once comfortable with such a limited definition, when their association supported Proposition 21, a “tough-on-crime” ballot measure in 2000 that included a specific list of new serious and violent felonies.
Brown said, “All we did was take the list that the DAs themselves put in Prop. 21 – called the violent crimes – and we said we’ll do all the other ones.”
Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten, a co-chair of the opposition campaign, said Monday that violent felonies have been defined by the state – not district attorneys – for decades and that any changes supported by district attorneys in 2000 were designed to increase penalties, not reduce prisoner time served.
“I don’t think any prosecutors would say that this is our list of what’s violent,” Totten said. “I don’t think any reasonable person at that time (2000) would have contemplated that some future governor would try to do something that is so utterly dangerous to the residents of California.”