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Note: The Background, Proposal, and Fiscal Effect sections are taken from the LWVCEF In Depth publication, based in part on the Legislative Analyst’s Office analysis included in the Secretary of State’s official Voter Information Guide.
Victims’ Rights Laws
In June 1982 California voters approved Proposition 8, known as the “Victims’ Bill of Rights.” That measure amended the Constitution and various state laws to give crime victims the right to be notified of, to attend, and to state their views at sentencing and parole hearings. Other separately enacted laws have created other rights for crime victims, including the opportunity for a victim to obtain a judicial order of protection from harassment by a criminal defendant.
Proposition 8 established the right of crime victims to obtain restitution from any person who committed the crime that caused them to suffer a loss. Restitution often involves replacement of stolen or damaged property or reimbursement of costs that the victim incurred as the result of the crime. Under current state law a court order is required to order full restitution unless the court finds compelling and extraordinary reasons not to do so. Sometimes, however, judges do not order restitution. Proposition 8 also established a right to “safe, secure and peaceful” schools for students and staff of primary, elementary, junior high, and senior high schools.
California Prison System
California operates 33 state prisons and other facilities that had a combined adult inmate population of about 171,000 in May 2008. The annual cost to operate the state prison system in 2008-09 is estimated at $10 billion, with the average annual cost to incarcerate an inmate estimated at $46,000. Because the state prison system is overcrowded, gymnasiums and other rooms in state prisons have been converted to housing inmates.
Both the state Legislature and the courts have been considering proposals to reduce overcrowding, including early release of inmates from state prison. Currently none of these proposals has been adopted. State prison populations are affected by credits granted to prisoners for good behavior or participation in specific programs. Credits reduce the amount of time a prisoner must serve before release.
California counties collectively spend over $2.4 billion on county jails, which have a population in excess of 80,000. In 20 counties an inmate population cap has been imposed by the federal courts. An additional 12 counties have self-imposed population caps. In counties with population caps, inmates are sometimes released early to comply with the limit imposed by the cap. However, some sheriffs also use alternative methods of reducing jail populations, such as confining inmates to home detention with Global Positioning System (GPS) devices.
Proposition 9 would make changes in the following areas of victims’ rights:
Restitution. Proposition 9 requires that, without exception, restitution be ordered from offenders who have been convicted, in every case in which a victim suffers a loss. It also requires that any funds collected by a court or law enforcement agency from a person ordered to pay restitution would go to pay that restitution first, in effect giving these payments priority over other fines and obligations an offender may legally owe.
Notification and Participation of Victims in Criminal Justice Proceedings. In 1982 Proposition 8 established the legal right for crime victims to be notified of, to attend, and to state their views at, sentencing and parole hearings. This measure expands those legal rights to include all public criminal proceedings, including the release from custody of offenders after their arrest, but before trial. In addition, victims would be given the constitutional right to participate in other aspects of the criminal justice process, such as conferring with prosecutors on the charges filed. Also, law enforcement and criminal prosecution agencies would be required to provide victims with specified information, including details on victims’ rights.
Other Expansions of Victims’ Legal Rights
Some of these rights now exist in statute.
Restrictions on Early Release of Inmates. This measure amends the California Constitution to require that criminal sentences imposed by the courts be carried out in compliance with the courts’ sentencing orders and that such sentences shall not be “substantially diminished” by early release policies to alleviate overcrowding in prison or jail facilities. It directs that sufficient funding be provided by the Legislature or county boards of supervisors to house inmates for the full terms of their sentences, except for statutorily authorized credits which reduce those sentences.
Granting and Revocation of Parole. The Board of Parole Hearings conducts two different types of procedures relating to parole. First, inmates sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole must go before the board for a parole consideration hearing. Second, the board has authority to return to state prison for up to a year an individual who has been released on parole but who subsequently commits a parole violation; this is called parole revocation. A federal court order requires the state to provide legal counsel to parolees, including assistance at hearings related to parole revocation charges. Proposition 9 would make changes in both of these procedures.
Fiscal Impacts of Early Release Restrictions
State Prison. The state does not now generally release inmates early from prison. Thus, under current law, the measure would probably have no fiscal impact on the state prison system. It could have a significant fiscal effect in the future because it could prevent the possibility of substantial state savings on prison operations through an early release program. The loss could be hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
County Jails. Early release of jail inmates now occurs in a number of counties, primarily in response to inmate population limits imposed on county jail facilities by federal courts. It is not clear how enacting a state constitutional measure would affect jail operations and related expenditures in these counties. The population cap could be addressed by expanding the use of GPS home monitoring or decreasing the use of pretrial detention of suspects, rather than releasing inmates early. In counties not subject to federal court-ordered population caps, the measure’s restrictions on early release of inmates could affect jail operations and related costs, depending upon the circumstances related to early release and how this provision was interpreted by the courts. Thus, the overall cost of this provision for counties in unknown.
Potential Net State Savings from Change in Parole Board Procedures
Legal Rights of Criminal Victims
The League’s position on Proposition 9 is based on the juvenile justice aspects of the measure.
The LWVC Juvenile Justice/Dependency position supports a juvenile justice/dependency system that rehabilitates juvenile offenders by . . . helping to prepare them for productive participation in society and supports the rights and best interests of the child in preference to those of any other individual.
The League believes that efforts to deal with dependency issues and provide juvenile justice should reinforce a young person’s right to safety, support, respect and justice. Juvenile Courts should be well managed, provide due process, protect the rights of all affected parties, work with community resources . . .
The LWVC Constitution position supports measures to secure an orderly and simplified state Constitution: provisions that enable the legislature to deal with state problems efficiently, flexibly and with responsibility clearly fixed.
The League believes that the California Constitution should permit the legislature and other elected officials to carry out their responsibilities with flexibility, unhampered by unnecessary restrictions, but with safeguards in the public interest. The League is opposed to highly detailed provisions including administrative and procedural detail.
In June 1982, California voters passed Proposition 8, known as the “Victims’ Bill of Rights,” which granted crime victims the right to be notified in advance, attend, and state their views at sentencing and parole hearings. Other separately enacted statutes have created other rights for crime victims.
This initiative would expand the legal rights of crime victims in various ways while undoing many of the rights of prisoners, as well as of parolees facing revocation of their parole, to due process and speedy parole hearings.
Recently, a federal court has ordered the state to hold prompt hearings and to provide legal counsel for juvenile parolees held in Department of Justice facilities while awaiting rulings on whether they have violated their parole.
The rebuttal to the argument in favor was signed by Jeanne Woodford, Former Warden, San Quentin State Prison, and Rev. John Freesemann, Board President, California Church IMPACT.
The rebuttal to the argument against was signed by Marcella Leach, Co-founder, Justice for Homicide Victims; Harriet Salarno, President, Crime Victims United of California; and Mark Lunsford, Creator, Jessica’s Law: Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Act of 2006.
Linda Craig, LWVC Advocacy Director
Trudy Schafer, LWVC Senior Director for Program
Pat Kuhi, LWVC Juvenile Justice/Dependency Program Director
www.VoteNoProp9.com, No on Propositions 6 & 9
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