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Brown: Measure addresses old mistake

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POSTED April 11, 2016 7:34 p.m.

SACRAMENTO  (AP) — California Gov. Jerry Brown said Monday that the initiative he is promoting for the November ballot would help fix a mistake he made nearly 40 years ago that has sent too many offenders to prison for decades with little hope of rehabilitation.
The Democratic governor wants voters to approve a ballot measure that would increase early release credits for inmates who complete rehabilitation programs and allowing earlier parole for nonviolent felons.
He told criminal justice reform advocates gathered for a convention in Sacramento that the initiative would partly reverse the determinate sentencing system that he signed into law in 1977 when he was governor the first time. That law largely dictates criminals’ prison sentences, leaving little room for incentives that Brown says can improve inmates’ behavior.
“The problems that I create, I can clean up,” he said to applause. “And I’m cleaning this one up.”
The California District Attorneys Association is challenging whether Brown improperly amended his proposal onto an existing juvenile justice initiative in an effort to get his initiative out quickly.
The association also opposes the initiative itself, arguing that Brown is attempting to reverse numerous state laws and voter-approved sentencing enhancements, with few details or direction on how sentences would be reduced.
Brown said the existing system created two problems.
First, state lawmakers felt that no matter how long the determinate sentences are, they’re never long enough. He said that helped lead to more than 5,000 criminal laws augmented by more than 400 enhancements that can lengthen sentences for factors like repeat offenses or use of a gun.
Second, he said it offers little reward for inmates to improve themselves by participating in rehabilitation programs.
Brown’s proposal would allow the state parole board to consider releasing nonviolent inmates after they complete their primary sentence, without the added time from the enhancements. It would also allow state corrections officials to award earlier release credits to inmates who complete classes or treatment programs.
The move comes as a number of politicians try to walk back decades of get-tough policies. Brown said those led to a surge in prison construction that still left prisons overcrowded until federal judges stepped in. His initiative would also write some of the judges’ sentence-reduction orders into state law.
Similarly, former President Bill Clinton said during a tour of three historic black churches in Harlem on Sunday that his administration “overdid it” with the 1994 crime bill that he acknowledged put too many nonviolent offenders in prison for long sentences.
The state Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether Brown can continue despite the district attorneys’ challenge.
Brown appealed for support at Monday’s convention as he and other initiative backers scramble to gather the nearly 586,000 valid signatures required for a ballot measure this year.
The two-day convention was organized by Californians for Safety and Justice, an arm of which backed Proposition 47, a successful 2014 ballot measure that reduced penalties for certain property and drug crimes. It was held as part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
Brown did not mention his proposed initiative during an appearance last week at a ceremony by Crime Victims United, a more conservative organization affiliated with the state prison guards’ union.
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