Orange County Register: Dangerous flaws in Proposition 57 could result in early release of sex offenders

By Janet Nguyen and Patricia Bates
Saturday, April 21, 2018

Published by the Orange County Register

Thanks to Proposition 57, hundreds of sex offenders could be released into our communities through an early parole program. As strong advocates for public safety and most importantly as mothers to our respective families, the prospect of having sexual predators leaving prison early is, to say the least, stomach churning.

Proposition 57 was passed by California’s voters in 2016 with the intent to provide “nonviolent” felons the opportunity for early parole. Although the voters were sympathetic to the need for rehabilitation opportunities and to the desire of reducing overcrowding in the state’s prison system, the politicians behind this initiative simply did not do their homework and as a result, misled the public. Proponents of Proposition 57 led the voters to believe that early release would ultimately not be considered for those convicted of sexual crimes.

At the time voters were considering Proposition 57, law enforcement, district attorneys, crime victims’ organizations, a California Supreme Court justice (Ming Chin) and many others warned that the measure’s language was overly broad and would allow sex offenders to be released early from prison. But instead of fixing the proposition’s language before it went to the voters for approval, advocates promised to write regulations that would fix the loophole on sex offenders after the proposition was approved.

Not surprisingly, less than a year after its implementation, a Sacramento County Superior Court found the attempt by state prison officials to exempt registered sex offenders from the parole provisions of Proposition 57 to be illegal. In the view of the courts, state officials cannot alter the scope of the law as it was passed by the voters.

The lack of action by Proposition 57 advocates to fix the initiative’s language prior to the November 2016 vote left communities vulnerable to the release of sex offenders who may not have committed a violent crime by definition, but who have committed a crime that exhibits a degree of brutality. These crimes include heinous acts such as raping a drugged or unconscious victim or the sex trafficking of children.

To make matters worse, the judge also ruled that previous crimes cannot be taken into account when an early parole decision is being made. This means that only the current crime is being considered, resulting in many career criminals receiving the same consideration as first-time offenders.

The unfortunate outcome of all of this is a flawed law that could potentially allow for the early release of hundreds, maybe thousands, of sex criminals.

To remedy this potential disaster, state prison officials can try to rewrite the regulations, but they seem unlikely to address the public safety concerns. Equally unlikely is the state’s ability to overturn the judge’s decision given the original ruling.

After Proposition 57 passed in 2016, legislators, on both sides of the aisle, introduced half a dozen bills to fix this problem. In spite of these bipartisan efforts, Democrat leadership rejected all the proposed bills. Nonetheless, Senate Republicans will continue to fight to remedy this grave problem. To do so, we will again be trying to pass legislation to add sex offenses and other disturbing acts on the list of violent crimes.

If you, like us, are alarmed by the public safety risks of Proposition 57, we urge you to contact the governor’s office and your legislators to register your opinion. Let them know that the safety of our children and communities matters to the residents of California and that you will make your voices heard.

State Sen. Janet Nguyen, R-Garden Grove, and Senate Republican Leader Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, represent Orange County districts in the California Senate.