California Sues to Keep Prison-Reform Scheme Off Ballot

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Outgoing California Governor Jerry Brown filed a lawsuit Thursday to block a ballot initiative he says will weaken voter-approved criminal justice reforms and lead back down the path to prison overcrowding in the Golden State.

In 2016, over 60 percent of voters approved Proposition 57 which overhauled the state’s approach to prison in order to “stop the revolving door” policies and mass incarceration. The initiative placed the focus on rehabilitation, changed policies for juvenile prosecution and gave nonviolent inmates the opportunity to petition for early parole.

But Auburn-based attorney Nina Besselman submitted over 430,000 valid signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office this past July, qualifying a measure for the November 2020 ballot that Brown says will weaken Proposition 57.

As qualified, Besselman’s initiative would override the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s authority to handle early parole for nonviolent inmates by redefining currently qualified offenders and making it more difficult to be granted parole, according to Brown.

Secondly, Brown says, Besselman’s initiative gives the Legislature the power to further chip away Proposition 57 even though it is now part of the California Constitution.

“Initiative No. 17-0044 would thwart the voters’ intent in adopting Proposition 57 by replacing CDCR’s regulations with statutes that undermine Proposition 57’s purposes,” Brown says in the complaint. “The voters were clear that the goals of Proposition 57 were to protect and enhance public safety, save money by reducing wasteful spending on prisons, prevent federal courts from indiscriminately releasing prisoners, [and] stop the revolving door of crime by emphasizing rehabilitation, especially for juveniles.”

The official title of Besselman’s initiative is “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018.” She did not return a phone call seeking comment by press time.

Brown says the proposed initiative exceeds the people’s power of initiative and seeks a writ of mandate ordering Secretary of State Alex Padilla to keep Besselman’s effort off the November 2020 ballot.

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