In the nearly seven years he’s been governor, Jerry Brown’s been frank about why he’s supported bold criminal justice reform, like Prop. 57, the 2016 ballot measure that, among other things, offers sentence credits to inmates who take advantage of rehabilitative programming.
“I helped screw things up, but I helped unscrew things,” he said Friday at a forum put on by the California Prison Industry Authority, the state agency that provides work assignments and job training for state prisoners. The goal of the forum, held at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation was to encourage San Diego employers to hire ex-offenders.
The screw-up Brown referred to was a 1976 bill he signed during his first stint as governor that ended indeterminate sentencing in California. Prior to that, people were released when the parole board decided they were ready. At the time, Brown said, he thought determinate sentencing — a set prison term — would provide inmates and victims more certainty. Instead, California saw its prison population skyrocket from 25,000 when the bill took effect to 174,000 at its peak in 2006.
“We set in motion the atmosphere that the Legislature’s job is to keep changing the sentencing. And they did that very well. They passed thousands of tough-on-crime laws,” he said. “All that filled up the prisons, and they were hanging from the rafters.”
Brown’s given similar talks at other Prison Industry Authority employer forums during his current tenure. But with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation working on Prop. 57 guidelines — which could mean early release for thousands of prisoners — there’s more of an imperative to persuade employers that ex-offenders are worth hiring.
Brown, who once studied to become a Jesuit priest, peppered his talk with moments that verged on sermon.
“We’re all sinners,” he told the audience, causing nervous laughter. “Every one of you people. We all do bad things. A little humility in the face of people who do bad things is called for.”
It’s an increasingly common theme in criminal justice reform: An offender shouldn’t forever be defined by his crime.
In 2005, a federal judge ruled that conditions in California prisons were so bad — due to overcrowding — that they violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Most state prisons are currently subject to federal oversight.
Brown wants to see that end before his term is over in 2018, and lowering the recidivism rate, currently at around 45 percent, is key. As Brown and other speakers noted, stable jobs keep people from returning to prison.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do on ourselves,” he said. “We’ve got a lot to do on the prisons and the prisoners.”
— Kelly Davis
• It looks like San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s invitation to a roundtable of California mayors held by Sen. Kamala Harris this week got lost in the mail.
But Faulconer did make an appearance at another gathering of mayors this week, this one at the state Capitol, where he advocated for action on housing.
Atkins’ Big Housing Bill Might Not Have the Votes
Sen. Toni Atkins’ bill to create a permanent source of funds for subsidized housing underwent some changes this week.
Since the bill would levy a fee of $75 on certain real estate documents, it must clear the two-thirds vote threshold in both chambers. It passed the Senate in July and now must clear the same hurdle in the Assembly before Sept. 15.
Amendments made to the bill Tuesday would give cities and counties more control over the funds – changes made in order to help the bill win over enough votes to pass.
If the bill were to go into effect, local governments would receive half of the money collected in the first year to update various blueprints for growth in order to accelerate housing production. The other half would go toward reducing homelessness.
After the first year, 70 percent of the funds would go directly to local communities to create affordable housing and the other 30 percent would go toward state affordable housing programs.
The fee is estimated to raise roughly $250 million a year.
When Atkins announced the changes earlier this week, she also confirmed that she had not yet secured all the votes she needed for the bill, the L.A. Times reported.
A vote on housing measures was expected Friday, but Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon announced Friday morning that it wouldn’t be happening.
– Maya Srikrishnan
San Diego Lawmaker Roundup
• If you’re ever feeling down about the state of the world, you should listen to Assemblywoman Shirley Weber talk about what she calls the “California Dream,” and the promise of living in the Golden State. That shines through in a wonderful profile of Weber that focuses on her tendency to take on tough issues in the Capitol, like education reform.
“I come out of a legacy that says, if you don’t keep kicking at the door, you’ll never be able to wear it down or open it. So, I keep kicking,” Weber tells CALMatters.
• A few weeks back we told you to keep an eye on AB 901, a bill written by Weber and Assemblyman Todd Gloria that would take a step toward requiring all San Diego County elections – like the ones for supervisor or DA – to go to a November runoff. Right now, a candidate can win outright in a June primary if he or she gets more than 50 percent of the vote.
The bill passed this week, and moves to the governor’s desk.
• The Joint Legislative Audit Committee approved a request from Sen. Ben Hueso to audit the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency over staffing levels for nurses, which Hueso’s office argues are “dangerously low.”
Hueso’s office announced the audit request last week but declined to provide details or make the letter to the audit committee public.
Major Ruling Chips Away at Two-Thirds Vote Requirement
The California Supreme Court made big waves this week when it said that ballot initiatives led by citizen groups are fundamentally different from measures placed on the ballot by local governments.
Since the ruling came out, there’s been some disagreement about whether it means that citizen initiatives only need a simple majority to pass, rather than two-thirds. If the threshold really has been lowered, it would be a game-changer for local politics.
Assembly Republicans have already said they want to close the loophole that the ruling may have opened, and change the state Constitution to make clear that any special tax increase must win two-thirds of the vote, even if it’s led by a citizens’ group.
This past November, for example, a majority of San Diego County voters said yes to SANDAG’s proposed sales tax hike, but the measure fell short because it didn’t net 66.7 percent of the vote. Now we’re left with a long list of transportation projects the county still wants and needs, but no clear way to pay for them. If the bar had been set at 50 percent, the measure would have passed.
In a piece for Citylab, I wrote about the ruling’s potential impact on transportation and infrastructure funding. In November 2016 alone, at least six countywide measures to fund transportation improvements won a majority of voters, but failed to become law because they didn’t net a two-thirds vote. San Diego was one of those places – Measure A got 57 percent of the vote.
Golden State News
• A draft of Gov. Jerry Brown’s changes to the sanctuary state bill would actually “[open] up new lines of communication between Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and local jails.” (The Intercept)
• After being ousted as the Assembly Republican leader, Chad Mayes reflects on where he thinks the state party is headed. (CALMatters)
• State Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León had some harsh words for Sen. Dianne Feinstein after she called for patience with President Donald Trump. (AP)
• A San Jose State professor says she’s among the many people who can’t afford to live in the Bay Area, and spends most nights sleeping in her car. (CBS SF Bay Area)