Brown hits campaign trail for Prop 57, against Prop 53

California Gov. Jerry Brown.
California Gov. Jerry Brown.
California Counts

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Gov. Jerry Brown wants voters to change the way California inmates serve their time behind bars. He argues the state’s current system does little to rehabilitate convicts before sending them back to the streets.

But many prosecutors are fighting back against Proposition 57 ahead of Tuesday's election.

Brown’s initiative would reverse a change he signed into law decades ago during his first stint as governor. That law created fixed-length sentences – so, the governor argues, there’s no incentive for inmates to transform their lives behind bars.

That’s why he’s campaigning for Proposition 57.

“What this does is create a wise group of professional men and women who can take a look – after a person serves their base sentence – and then, if they deserve it, they can earn parole,“ Brown told Capital Public Radio in an interview Wednesday, which was granted on the condition that the governor was only asked about the two statewide ballot measures he's actively campaigning for or against. “But that doesn’t mean they’re going to get it.”

Proposition 57 would allow inmates to earn credits for good behavior, education and rehabilitation.

“It is effective public safety,“ Brown says, “not the rhetorical fog that we’re hearing from its adversaries.”

There’s actually deep anger from the measure’s adversaries, who say Proposition 57 could allow early parole for people convicted of crimes like rape and hostage-taking.

“Judges’ sentences going forward are going to be advisory at best, says Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse, “and I don’t think that’s what Californians understand or want in their criminal justice system.”

And, Morse says, Proposition 57 would continue California’s shift away from the “tough on crime” trend that dominated the 1990s.

“Crime has begun climbing again after falling for two decades, because we finally had gotten serious with repeat violent offenders,“ he says. “This is an enormous step in the wrong direction, and California will suffer as a result.”

In recent years, the governor has shifted responsibility for low-level offenders from the state to counties, and voters have downgraded some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

Listen to Governor Brown's interview Wednesday with Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler:

Brown slams 'retrogressive' Proposition 53

Meanwhile, Brown is blasting a measure on next week’s ballot that would require voter approval for projects financed by revenue bonds of $2 billion or more, arguing that Proposition 53 would place another regulatory burden on much-needed infrastructure projects.

“The proposition intentionally has left it vague and ambiguous,“ Brown told Capital Public Radio Wednesday. “So it is an invitation for more lawsuits – what’s a project? And California has too damn many lawsuits already.” 

But the measure’s supporters argue voters deserve a say on “megaprojects” like the Delta tunnels and high-speed rail.

“For a governor who has consistently said he wants to engage the voters on some of these big decisions, his opposition to 53 is somewhat confusing to us,” says Jon Coupal with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

The measure is backed by most taxpayer groups and a wealthy Delta farmer who opposes the tunnels project. Business and labor groups have teamed up with Brown to defeat it.

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California Counts is a collaboration of KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio to report on the 2016 election. The coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what's important to the future of California.

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