Assemblyman Jim Cooper
California voters were promised that violent sex offenders wouldn’t be released from prison early if they passed Proposition 57, the sweeping ballot initiative approved two years ago allowing the early release of inmates convicted of non-serious and non-violent crimes.
But last year, a Superior Court Judge ruled that sex offenders must be considered for early release, because that’s precisely what Proposition 57 requires. As a result, more than half of the 20,000 inmates now serving time for violent sex offenses could be back on the street.
That was the hidden flaw in Proposition 57. While it promised to keep violent offenders in prison, the list of crimes considered violent under California law is remarkably short. Raping an unconscious person isn’t officially a “violent” crime in California. Nor is pimping a child for sex. If an abuser beats a spouse or domestic partner with enough force to cause injury, that’s not a violent crime either under California law. Clearly, few voters knew this.
And now with the court’s ruling that Proposition 57’s early release provisions must also apply to violent sexual offenders, the need for reform is even more urgent and obvious.
To close this dangerous loophole created by Proposition 57, I’ve joined with crime victim advocates, organizations fighting domestic violence, public safety groups and law enforcement leaders throughout California to help sponsor the “Keep California Safe Act,” a ballot initiative that expands the state’s list of violent crimes to include crimes that are clearly violent — like raping an unconscious person, pimping a child for sex and assault with a deadly weapon.
Other crimes that would be added to the list include domestic violence, felony hate crimes, exploding a bomb to injure people and drive-by shootings, none of which is currently “violent” under California law. Moreover, the initiative gives voters more authority over early release decisions, which are now made by unelected regulators with little input from victims, prosecutors or the public.
The initiative does not overturn Proposition 57, nor does it take away the credits inmates earn for participating in rehabilitation and education programs, and for following the rules while in prison. It fixes Proposition 57 by giving prosecutors and victims a greater voice in early release decisions, while ensuring that violent crimes are, in fact, violent under the law.
In November 2020, voters will have an opportunity to correct Proposition 57 and do what public safety and common-sense demand — to make violent crimes “violent” in California, so violent offenders, including violent sexual predators, are not released early.
Our children, and all of us, will be safer.
Assemblyman Jim Cooper represents Sacramento County’s 9th Assembly District.