Seal of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation seal. Courtesy of the department

By Randy Voepel

In 2016, California voters approved Proposition 57, also known as “the California Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements Initiative,” by an overwhelming margin of 64 percent to 36 percent.

Among a number of other provisions, Proposition 57’s main objective was to increase parole chances for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes and provide them more opportunities to earn credits for good behavior.

As a voter myself, I opposed this initiative for several reasons — mainly, I was worried that it was poorly written and would create opportunities for those committed of more vicious crimes to receive an early release. I also had concerns about the effects of Proposition 57 in combination with AB 109 and Proposition 47, additional criminal justice reforms that I believe have eroded public safety.

However, regardless of my personal position, the voters of California overwhelmingly spoke on this issue.

That’s why I am so concerned about recently proposed regulations that have been put forward by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Randy Voepel

According to the text of Proposition 57, the corrections department is required to put forward regulations “in furtherance” of the provisions approved by the voters, which are now part of our state’s constitution.

Unfortunately, rather than develop regulations that act in accordance with the will of California voters, the department has drafted regulations that do just the opposite.

Primarily, the language within Proposition 57 states that parole eligibility is granted only to “any person convicted of a nonviolent felony offense.” However, the rules written by corrections department would provide early-release eligibility to those convicted of a violent crime if they’re serving an additional sentence for a non-violent crime committed while serving time.

This is a sleight-of-hand drafting that contradicts the desires of California voters: to allow for the early release of those convicted only of non-violent crimes.

Additionally, the corrections department rules strike at the heart of one of our state’s most important protections of victim’s rights: Marsy’s Law.

Approved by California voters in 1998, Marsy’s law provides crime victims with constitutionally protected rights, including the right that a victim should receive “reasonable notice of all public proceedings, including delinquency proceedings, upon request, at which the defendant and the prosecutor are entitled to be present and of all parole or other post-conviction release proceedings, and to be present at all such proceedings.”

A victim also has a right to “be heard, upon request, at any proceeding, including any delinquency proceeding, involving a post-arrest release decision, plea, sentencing, post-conviction release decision, or any proceeding in which a right of the victim is at issue.”

Unfortunately, the corrections department regulations undermine those rights due to the fact that they provide the victim only with “an opportunity to submit a written statement.” This rule would deprive victims of an important right: the chance to make a direct, personal appeal to the individuals with the power to release those convicted of crimes.

Accordingly, I am urging the the department to revise their proposed regulations to ensure they put forward policies that respect the will of California voters and our state’s constitution. We can’t allow state bureaucracies to contradict our state constitution in order to serve their own policy goals.

Assemblymember Randy Voepel represents the 71st Assembly District, which includes eastern San Diego County and southern portion of Riverside County. He is a Navy veteran from the Vietnam era and the former mayor of Santee.