Two years ago, California voters were promised that violent sex offenders wouldn’t be released from prison early if they passed Proposition 57, the sweeping ballot initiative allowing the early release of inmates convicted of non-serious and non-violent crimes.
But this month, a Superior Court judge tentatively ruled that sex offenders must be considered for early release under Prop. 57. If the ruling is made final, more than half of the 20,000 inmates now serving time for violent sex offenses could be back on the street.
That was the hidden flaw in Prop. 57. While it promised to keep violent offenders in prison, the list of crimes considered violent under California law is remarkably short. The list doesn’t include raping an unconscious person, or pimping a child, or beating a spouse. Clearly, few voters knew this.
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And now with the court’s ruling on violent sexual offenders, the need for reform is even more urgent.
To close this dangerous loophole, I’ve joined with crime victim advocates, organizations fighting domestic violence, public safety groups and law enforcement leaders to sponsor the “Keep California Safe Act,” a proposed ballot initiative to expand the state’s list of violent crimes.
Crimes that would be added also include felony hate crimes, assault with a deadly weapon and drive-by shootings. Moreover, the measure would give voters more authority over early release decisions, which are now made by unelected officials with little input from victims, prosecutors or the public.
The initiative would not overturn Prop. 57, nor take away the credits inmates earn for participating in rehabilitation and education programs and for following the rules. It fixes Prop. 57 by giving prosecutors and victims a greater voice, while ensuring that violent crimes are actually considered violent under state law and keeping violent sexual predators behind bars.
We’re now gathering the signatures needed to put the initiative on the November ballot and to make all of us safer.
Jim Cooper, an Elk Grove Democrat, represents the 9th Assembly District. He can be contacted at Assemblymember.Cooper@assembly.ca.gov.