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In becoming the face of the opposition to Prop. 57, a statewide criminal justice measure that will be on the November ballot, Mayor Kevin Faulconer is putting politics before people.
If he really believes in One San Diego, he must start caring about all lives and not just some lives. The mayor must also start telling the truth about Prop 57. He is misleading the public when he says, “people convicted of domestic violence, hate crimes and human trafficking would be among those eligible for early release.” He also said, “Prop. 57 would make it easier for criminals who have committed deplorable, violent crimes to be eligible for early release.”
This is misinformation intended to scare the public, not inform. Our communities will not react to scare tactics that seek to perpetuate a system that is broken.
Let me begin by telling you what Prop. 57 is all about. Prop. 57 is called the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 and, according to its supporters, will:
• Authorize parole consideration for people with non-violent convictions who complete the full sentence for their primary offense
• Have incentives for people in prison to encourage them to participate in and complete rehabilitation and education programs
• Require the secretary of corrections to certify that the regulations implementing these policies protect and enhance public safety
• Require judges, rather than prosecutors, to decide whether a youth as young as 14 years old should be tried as an adult
• Mandate a judge to carefully review all of the circumstances of a youth’s crime and life before making a decision on whether that young person should be charged as an adult
• Save taxpayer dollars by reducing wasteful spending within our correctional system.
• Keep the most dangerous offenders locked up.
Prop. 57 addresses the unfair and unjust sentences that have been unfairly applied across California State by prosecutors who have the power and authority to determine who will and will not receive sentence enhancements.
Those enhancements can increase the punishment for certain crimes. If someone committed a crime, for example, that was directly tied to their membership in a gang, a gang enhancement could significantly add to that person’s sentence beyond the punishment that the crime itself would earn.
Sentence enhancements can range from one year to a life sentence, depending on the crime and circumstances.
Prop. 57 only applies to non-violent convictions. The goal is to keep violent felons off the street, and Prop. 57 does just that. Anyone who has committed a violent crime will not be eligible for early release under Prop 57.
Let’s look at domestic violence – which Faulconer mentioned in his anti-Prop. 57 press conference. When someone is arrested for domestic violence, depending on the severity of the assault, prosecutors can charge the individual with a violent felony. For example, great bodily injury or using a gun in domestic violence is a violent felony under the California penal code. If an individual commits mayhem against someone during a domestic violence incident, that also constitutes a violent felony under the California penal code.
The same rule applies to human trafficking. If a pimp (or facilitator) forces or threatens a person to obtain money, that is considered extortion, and under the penal code it is a violent felony. Many victims of human trafficking are kidnapped. Kidnapping is also a violent felony, and so is sexual abuse of an underage victim.
Everything is really up to prosecutors, and how they file charges or what kind of plea deal they make with the perpetrator that determines whether a person will be charged with a violent felony based on the California penal code.
If Faulconer really cares about victims of violent crimes, why hasn’t he stood with us at our rallies, vigils and marches as we cried out against violence? This year in the city of San Diego, our faith-based organizations, The San Diego Compassion Project and C.A.S.T. have ministered to 34 victims of violent injury and 19 families with loved ones who were victims of homicides. Faulconer has been missing in action, and extremely quiet about these violent acts that have taken place in our communities.
Prop. 57 will bring about a positive change within the prison industrial complex system. Within this system, there are racial disparities when it comes to how people of color are charged and sentenced. Michelle Alexander writes in her book “The New Jim Crow,”: “The term mass incarceration refers to the criminal justice system but also to the larger web of laws, rules, policies, and customs that control those labeled criminals both in and out of prison. Once released, former prisoners enter a hidden underworld of legalized discrimination and permanent social exclusion. They are members of America’s new undercaste.”
I hope in the future, Faulconer will present the facts and not fiction. He needs to ensure that the public will hear the truth about Prop. 57, and not scare tactics that seek to maintain the status quo.
Cornelius Bowser is a bishop at Charity Apostolic Church and is religious affairs coordinator for the National Action Network. Bowser’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.