Criminal justice initiatives went too far, Sacramento County DA says
Blaming an erosion in public safety, California law enforcement and victims’ rights organizations on Monday introduced an initiative that would expand the list of violent crimes and make other changes to a recent series of laws intended to lower the state’s overcrowded prison population.
The proposed measure, backed by a group that includes Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, and Sacramento County District Attorney Anne-Marie Schubert, could appear on the November 2018 ballot. If approved by voters, it would:
▪ Add 15 new offenses to the list of violent crimes, including human trafficking of a child, rape of an unconscious person and assaulting a police officer. Californians convicted of those crimes would no longer be eligible for early release under last year’s Proposition 57.
▪ Reinstate DNA collection for offenders convicted of seven drug and petty theft charges that were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors under 2014’s Proposition 47.
▪ Create a felony for serial theft, when someone is caught for the third time stealing more than $250 worth of goods. Proposition 47 set the felony threshold for theft crimes like shoplifting at $950.
▪ Require the state parole board to consider an inmate’s entire criminal history, rather than just their most recent offense, and hold hearings on whether to revoke parole for someone who violates their parole for the third time.
Proponents said the ongoing efforts to roll back California’s tough criminal justice policies, which began with prison realignment in 2011, have emboldened repeat offenders and led to skyrocketing crime rates.
“Victims and innocent people in California are being kneecapped on a regular basis,” Marc Klaas, founder of the nonprofit KlaasKids Foundation, said. “It feels like all of the work that we did back in the ’90s is now being undone by people who apparently are way more concerned with the rights of criminals than with the safety of innocent persons.”
But the extent of the increase in crime, and whether it can rightfully be attributed to new laws like Proposition 47, is disputed. While the violent crime rate increased by almost 13 percent over the past two years, according to 2016 California Department of Justice statistics, it is essentially flat with 2010 and less than half its 1992 peak. The property crime rate ticked up in 2015, then dropped again last year.
Changes to the justice system have served California well so far, said Will Matthews, a spokesman for Californians for Safety and Justice, the group behind Proposition 47. He pointed to a dropping recidivism rate, which the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported last year is now below 50 percent.
“We’re on the right track, we’re doing the right thing, and instead of rolling back criminal justice reform, what we really need to do is double down on it and continue this trajectory,” he said.
The DNA collection component of the proposed initiative is a priority for supporters. With California’s DNA database purged of samples stemming from the crimes that were reduced to misdemeanors under Proposition 47, law enforcement officials say they are getting fewer cold case hits. Cooper has introduced unsuccessful bills each of the past two years to reverse that portion of the law.
“I believe very strongly that DNA is the greatest tool ever given to law enforcement to find the truth,” Schubert said.