The California Supreme Court ruled that thousands of convicted sex offenders may be eligible for early release from prison under a ballot measure that voters approved four years ago.
The ballot measure is referred to as Proposition 57. It was written by then-Governor Jerry Brown (D. Nearly two-thirds of the electorate passed the measure. The intent of the initiative was to reduce the state’s prison population, saying any person guilty of a “nonviolent felony offense” would be eligible for early parole. Brown said he never intended for it to include sex offenders. But the original language did not specifically exclude them. Lower appeals courts had ruled that nonviolent sex offenders could not be excluded, and the high court confirmed those rulings.
“The initiative’s language provides no indication that the voters intended to allow the (Corrections) Department to create a wholesale exclusion from parole consideration based on an inmate’s sex offense convictions when the inmate was convicted of a nonviolent felony,” wrote Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye in the court’s 7-0 decision.
According to The Associated Press, “the ballot measure allows officials to consider paroling inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes after they have served their basic sentence and before they have completed sometimes lengthy additional terms for enhancements for things like using a gun, having prior criminal convictions, or being involved in a street gang.”
California law classifies sex crimes “like rape, sodomy, and continuous sexual abuse of a child” as violent offenses, but “pimping, incest, indecent exposure and possessing child pornography” are not.
Prosecutors warned voters that the ballot measure was “so sloppily and poorly drafted” it would “wreak havoc on public safety.”
As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, the CDCR had “prohibited the board from considering early release for inmates serving time for a conviction that required registration as a sex offender,” and
“On Monday, the state’s high court ruled unanimously that the department’s regulations were unauthorized by Prop. 57. As of 2018, the state rules barred about 4,400 inmates from being considered for early parole.”
A CDCR spokeswoman told The Chronicle that the ruling “does not mean that sex offenders will automatically be released to the community.” She also said that the parole board would “assess their case factors individually, including whether they continue to propose a public safety risk.”
Sacramento attorney Janice Bellucci, who is also the executive director of the Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws, argued the case. She called the decision “a significant victory” for incarcerated people convicted of sex crimes.