Capitol Alert

Loretta Sanchez slams Jerry Brown’s criminal justice initiative, blames Kamala Harris

U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez speaks after voting at Orange High School on June 7.
U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez speaks after voting at Orange High School on June 7. AP

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, on the eve of her debate with fellow Democrat Kamala Harris, joined law enforcement officials Tuesday in sharply criticizing a fall initiative backed by Gov. Jerry Brown to make certain prison inmates eligible for early parole.

Sanchez, in denouncing Proposition 57 as “irresponsible,” “misleading” and “dangerous,” is bucking her own party’s establishment that is solidly behind Harris. The early parole initiative, backed by Brown and the California Democratic Party, would apply to felons who committed crimes considered nonviolent under state law.

Sanchez also derided Harris as the “top cop-out,” a play on Harris’ informal title as the state’s top law enforcement official, and blamed her for the “shocking increase in California’s crime.”

A Brown spokesman accused Sanchez of taking a political cheap shot and engaging in “Willie Horton-style scare tactics,” and Harris’ campaign suggested Sanchez is “using false smears and desperate demagoguery to scare up support for her campaign.”

“Meanwhile, in Washington, Sanchez helped fuel America’s mass incarceration crisis by voting to send more kids to prison, build more prisons and ratchet up mandatory minimums for nonviolent crimes,” said Harris spokesman Nathan Click.

Sanchez on Tuesday ripped Harris, who does not take positions on ballot initiatives, for her office’s crafting of the official title and summary for Proposition 57 as being too favorable to Brown by calling serious violent crimes, “nonviolent.”

She said such crimes include rape by intoxication of an unconscious person, human trafficking involving a sex act with minors, assault with a deadly weapon, and lewd acts against a child 14 or 15, among others.

“As a mother and as a wife I stand with families who have been victimized and have suffered some of these terrible crimes,” Sanchez said.

“And I stand here today to challenge anyone, especially the attorney general, who is supposed to be the state’s law enforcement leader, to explain how any of these crimes are not violent.”

Brown’s measure would override a tough sentencing law he signed during his first stint as governor, in 1976. He and supporters said inmates currently have little incentive to rehabilitate themselves while in prison. They point to financial savings to the state as well as relief on its crowded prison system.

Dan Newman, a spokesman for Brown’s measure, questioned Sanchez’s sincerity on the issue.

“That’s not a serious position, it’s an uninformed disingenuous political cheap shot, in the long, sad tradition of using Willie Horton-style scare tactics to mislead voters about criminal justice issues,” Newman said in a statement. “The fact is Prop. 57 will keep us safer by preventing courts from ordering the arbitrary release of prisoners, and giving offenders incentives to turn their lives around and become taxpaying, law-abiding, productive members of society.”

Sanchez and Harris are set to debate at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Los Angeles. The debate will be carried live on C-SPAN.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago