California’s dangerous trifecta: AB109, Prop. 57 and Prop. 47

OpEd by Supervisor Andrew Do 6-8-18

By Supervisor Andrew Do

You can use a lot of words to describe Luis Steven Flores’ rap sheet, but non-violent isn’t one.

Since 1995, Flores has been convicted of two counts of assault with a firearm, one count of selling a controlled substance, and to top it all off — aggravated battery on a peace officer. Then, while in prison, he added attempted murder to his record. Despite this obviously violent past, Flores was referred to and granted early release under the state’s Nonviolent Parole Review Process.

Thank you, Proposition 57.

Just two years ago, voters overwhelmingly passed the measure on the promise that only non-violent offenders would be eligible for early release from prison. In practice, Prop. 57 has failed to deliver. Even the state Parole Board acknowledged his “extensive history of violence,” as it granted Flores early release from state prison under the nonviolent release program.

“Voters were promised that Proposition 57 would only grant early release to ‘non-violent’ offenders,” explains Michele Hanisee, president of the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys. “But the drafters of that initiative never defined which crimes were ‘non-violent.’”

As prosecutors have pointed out, that loophole has meant sex traffickers, rapists, abusive spouses and even drive-by shooters have qualified for early release under the state’s nonviolent parole process. Hanisee’s organization has highlighted Flores’ case and several others in an effort to bring common-sense reforms to California’s wayward criminal justice system.

As Prop. 57 paved the way for early release of hardened felons, AB109 amended more than 500 criminal statutes, reduced penalties for parole violations, and shifted thousands of convicted felons from state prison to county jails. Both have been exacerbated by Prop. 47, which makes it almost impossible to lock up serial offenders for drug and property crimes.

Here in Orange County, we’re seeing the consequences of this dangerous trifecta — Prop. 57, AB109 and Prop. 47 — that radically altered our state’s approach to crime and punishment. None of these criminal justice changes caused the county’s homeless crisis or proliferation of the “Rehab Riviera.” But, they’re certainly obstacles to solutions to these growing problems, which are overwhelmingly borne by working families in Central Orange County.

To combat these problems, the County of Orange has responded with decisive action to keep our communities safe. This year, we are proposing to double the funding for local law enforcement agencies under AB109 programs — to give local police departments more resources and the power to decide the best ways to keep our neighborhoods safe. The state has also helped out by providing Orange County with an additional $5.5 million in public safety funds specifically dedicated to offsetting the effects of AB109.

Additional funds are a necessary but insufficient step. We need a sensible long-term fix that corrects the glaring deficiencies in California’s criminal justice system. The Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act, a statewide initiative currently in circulation, would reform the state’s parole system to stop the early release of violent felons and close the loophole on violent offenses. It would also provide prosecutors with more tools for holding serial thieves and theft gangs accountable for their crimes.

As chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, I am proud that our county has joined the California District Attorneys Association, Association of Deputy District Attorneys and California Peace Officers’ Association in supporting this measure.

Our state’s dedicated prosecutors and selfless peace officers can’t do it alone. As a former prosecutor, I know firsthand that our law enforcement agencies need more tools, stronger laws and a sensible justice system to keep us safe.