Hotly contested Prop 57 pros and cons

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- One of the most hotly contested decisions on the ballot next week is Proposition 57. Gov. Jerry Brown is backing the change to criminal punishments and for the most part, law enforcement leaders say it's a terrible idea.

On its surface, Prop 57 is the "Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016." The idea is to cut down on the state's prison population by giving nonviolent felons an earlier chance at parole.

"Prop 57 will bring some intelligence into how we go through that release process," said attorney Eric Schweitzer. "These people are getting out anyway."

Schweitzer says it give convicts more incentives to behave better. Prop 57 would give the parole board more flexibility to decide which prisoners are really rehabilitated and which are just going through the motions. Enrolling in prison programs, like substance abuse treatment, job skills, and schooling could increase their chances of actually getting paroled.

"We know that education in a correctional environment will drastically reduce recidivism," Schweitzer said.

Gov. Brown and the "Yes on 57" campaign have raised about 10 times as much money as the "No on 57" side, but opponents have not stayed silent.

In Fresno County, district attorney Lisa Smittcamp led a group of police chiefs and politicians to make the case against 57.

"I think the thing that makes my blood boil is it's a lie," Smittcamp said. "The title of the initiative is a lie. They are not nonviolent people."

Prop 57 says it wouldn't apply to violent felons, but it doesn't specify which crimes are considered violent. Current state law only specifies 23 felonies as violent, including murder, robbery and some forms of rape. But drugging someone and then raping them while unconscious is not considered violent, for example.

And the "No on 57" campaign has sent out "meet your new neighbor" trading cards with criminals they say could get out under 57. They call it the "hug-a-thug" initiative and the most dangerous one ever on the ballot.

"57 is AB109 and Prop 47 on steroids," said Fresno police chief Jerry Dyer.

The most recent polls in California all show Prop 57 winning with 60-percent of the vote or more.
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