Sacramento County Superior Court judge Allen Sumner preliminarily ordered prison officials to rewrite the early parole regulations consistent with Proposition 57’s language.
Sumner ruled the state of California erred when writing regulations that didn’t specifically exclude some non-violent sex offenders from early parole consideration, reports The Associated Press. The voter-approved Proposition 57 allows many California prisoners to be considered for early release.
However, during the 2016 general election, Gov. Jerry Brown told voters that all sex offenders would be excluded from consideration under the proposition, according to the article.
In his Feb. 9, 2018 decision, Sumner said CDCR does not have broad authority to exclude certain inmates from parole consideration. Specifically, the judge said the exclusion exceeded CDCR’s authority, which had to be consistent with the language in Proposition 57.
“If the voters had intended to exclude all registered sex offenders from early parole consideration under Proposition 57, they presumably would have said so,” said the judge.
Janice Bellucci, attorney and president of Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws, who filed a lawsuit on behalf of non-violent sex offenders, said the ruling could allow early parole for half of the 20,000 sex offenders incarcerated in state prison.
Bellucci argued in her suit that the regulations written by CDCR conflicted with the proposition’s language and the voters’ intent. She further argued that only those crimes defined under the penal code as violent offenses, such as murder, kidnapping and forcible rape, are excluded.
According to the AP report, that could potentially allow early parole for those convicted for crimes not defined as violent under the penal code, such as raping an unconscious person, inappropriately touching someone who is unlawfully restrained, incest, pimping a minor, indecent exposure and possessing child pornography.
Sumner said corrections officials may make the case for excluding these offenders as they rewrite the regulations, even though they are not on the violent felony list (Penal Code 667.5(c)). Bellucci said she will sue again if the rewritten regulations go too far.
“Until they figure something else out, they have to consider anybody convicted of a nonviolent offense even if it was a sex offense,” said Bellucci. “We believe we’ve won a battle, but the war continues.”
Mark Zahner, chief executive of the California District Attorneys Association who opposed the Prop. 57 initiative, told the AP, “There’s a great danger of truly violent people being released early and people who commit, in this case, sex offenses that involve violence being released early.”
Karen Pank of the Chief Probation Officers of California countered that she still believes the measure does exclude sex offenders.
“We hope the issue will be more fully vetted on appeal,” said Pank.
Currently the California Public Safety Partnership is sponsoring a 2018 ballot initiative (entitled: “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018”).
Asked how this new initiative might affect Sumner’s recent ruling, Attorney Milena Blake of the Stanford Three-Strike Project told the San Quentin News that it would reduce the number of crimes that would qualify for the Proposition 57 early parole consideration.
“If the November initiative qualifies for the November ballot and passes, it will supersede any future court ruling in favor of nonviolent offenders and eliminate the number of people who qualify,” Blake said.
Proposition 57: THE PUBLIC SAFETY AND REHABILITATION ACT OF 2016