California crime laws due for an overhaul: Gov. Jerry Brown
“The whole system is arbitrary,” Gov. Jerry Brown said, talking about California’s determinate sentencing laws. He now advocates giving the California Board of Parole Hearings more authority in determining when inmates get to go home. Under Gov. Brown’s tenure, the Board of Parole Hearings has expanded its reach and has released more inmates than under other recent governors. Gov. Brown has also left more of those parole grants undisturbed, unlike his predecessors who overturned the majority of parole grants by the Board.
Gov. Brown used a forum for federal judges Wednesday to make the case in strong terms that California’s crime laws have gone too far and inmate behavior should play a greater role in determining the length of a prison stay.
Over the course of half an hour, he outlined his belief that the fixed-length criminal sentences he approved as governor three decades ago have glutted state prisons with long-stay offenders.
He called for at least a partial return to times when parole boards alone decided an inmate was ready to be freed — a system that Brown acknowledged was largely dropped for being arbitrary and harsh on racial minorities. Except for those sentenced to life with parole, inmates now serve set terms fixed largely by law.
“Now the whole system is arbitrary,” Brown said. “Instead of disadvantaging a small minority, we now cover the whole system…. In this process we have 5,000 criminal provisions and there are 400 enhancements.”
He offered no concrete solution, but suggested parole boards should be given “greater latitude” in deciding, he said, “When is it time to go home?”
Finding public support for such changes is a major problem, Brown told members of the 9th Circuit federal courts at the outset of a three-day conference on prison litigation. He cited the risk politicians face of being accused of jeopardizing public safety.
“It’s very political,” he said. “There’s a lot of fear of what to do.”
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