(FOX40.COM) — In recent years, some law enforcement officials have blamed Proposition 57 for the early release of sex offenders, but that conclusion may be a little more nuanced.
Prop 57 is a voter initiative that was developed by then-Governor Jerry Brown and overwhelmingly passed by California voters in 2016. It allows inmates who committed what are deemed nonviolent offenses to be eligible for parole hearings at an earlier time.
The proposition was a follow-up to Proposition 47, which was passed in 2014 to “ensure that prison spending is focused on violent and serious offenses and to maximize alternatives for non-serious, nonviolent crime,” according to www.courts.ca.gov.
The problem that arose after Prop 57 was passed was a lack of clarity on what is considered a violent crime. Prop 57 did not specify which felonies would be deemed nonviolent, and seemingly relied on a Penal Code list of 23 violent crimes which did not include all sex crimes.
The penal code excluded some felonies, such as sex crimes, that the general public might consider “violent.”
“It is important to remember that Prop 57 defines violent felony by Penal Code Section 667.5(c), which enumerates specific crimes. The definition of violent is not the same as most citizens would think,” Placer County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Lisa Botwinik said to FOX40.com.
“If the crime is not listed in Penal Code 667.5(c), then the crime is not violent for the purposes of Prop 57. This was one of the parts of the proposition that was confusing for citizens who do not work in the legal field to understand this distinction,” Botwinik said.
In 2020, Prop 20 was placed on California ballots to clear up the confusion. According to ballotpedia.org, a “yes” vote supported the initiative to add crimes, including those committed by sex offenders, to the list of violent felonies for which early parole is restricted.
However, it also recategorized certain types of theft and fraud crimes as “wobblers” (chargeable as misdemeanors or felonies) and required DNA collection for certain misdemeanors which voters did not agree with.
Although the measure could have fixed the sex offender loopholes in Prop 57, it made the consequence of lesser offenses more serious and led to 61.72% of voters in California voting “no.”
Those in opposition to Prop 57 have raised concerns about sex offenders having the ability to go before a parole board and potentially get released from prison early.
“Prop 57 allows inmates convicted of non-violent crimes to be considered for early release or parole, but it is not a guaranteed early release,” Botwinik said.
A recent example is convicted child molester Gabriel Price who was stopped from being released from Placer County jail on August 4. Although his case was up for consideration, the Board of Parole Hearings had the power to deny his request for parole -which they did, according to Placer County District Attorney’s office.
“Our office opposed his early release based on the nature of his crime and prior criminal history. The Board of Parole Hearings denied his early release based on the totality of the circumstances, not because he wasn’t eligible,” Botwinik said.
“The Board of Parole Hearings can consider a variety of things when considering an inmate’s early release. This can include the facts of the committing offense, the inmate’s prior criminal history, the inmate’s behavior while incarcerated, as well as input from the District Attorney’s Office and the victim.”