There's a measure on the ballot you're going to want to pay extra attention to on Nov. 8.
It's Proposition 57. The measure's official title is, "The California Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements Initiative.
The operative words - or at least they should be - are "non-violent criminals."
The words "non-violent criminals" conjures up images of shoplifters, drug users charged with possession, auto burglary and other such crimes.
You wouldn't think of domestic violence, involuntary manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter, assaulting someone with a deadly weapon, exploding a bomb with intent to injure or certain sexual assaults and rapes.
Actually it doesn't matter what you think. It's what the California Penal Code says. The crimes mention in the previous paragraph are all classified as non-violent.
Proposition 57 is backed by Gov. Jerry Brown whose No. 1 priority isn't law and order but getting convicted criminals out of prison quicker to meet court mandated prison population numbers. It isn't exactly fair to blame Brown for the conditions that led to the effort to get Proposition 57 on the ballot. Besides clearing up space in prisons, the backers of Proposition 57 point to language in the initiative that lets correctional officials decide who can get early parole as well pushing rehabilitation programs over incarceration.
That all sounds good. A reasonable person could easily support such a proposal.
However most reasonable people wouldn't view any type of rape, blowing things up, or manslaughter to be non-violent.
That's the joy of government double-speak. The government tells you one thing but gives you something else. And often it's the exact opposite of what you were led to expect.
We're told not to worry by Proposition 57 backers. Bureaucrats at the Department of Corrections could reject anyone with a dangerous history. But wait - doesn't someone who is a rapist or a killer have a dangerous history to begin with which is why they are in prison?
Silly you. They aren't talking about a dangerous history outside of prison. They're talking about a dangerous history inside of prison. You remember what prisons are, don't you? It's where rapists and killers are locked up, kept under close watch, and are kept inside of walls by the use of numerous towers with armed guards. The same fine upstanding citizens, when they aren't behind bars, realistically rarely have to look over their shoulder to worry about a parole officer.
Proposition 57 includes money to significantly increase the number of parole officers, right? Wrong.
It essentially allows the state to cut loose certain categories of rapists, killers, bombers, and those prone to beat up their significant other.
We are assured that the "dangerous" ones won't be cut lose early.
Remember Proposition 47? It supposedly reduced various non-violent felonies to misdemeanors. After Californians passed it they found out it included most cases involving the stealing of guns. That is based on the cash value of the gun. Forget the fact indisputable data shows the vast majority of guns used to kill people or commit violent crimes were stolen.
Then there are unintended consequences such as mail theft. Typically a federal crime, but if it happens in federal prosecution jurisdictions that are understaffed such as the one covering San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties it is kicked down to county prosecutors where they have to follow Proposition 47 guidelines. Unless there are checks totaling more than $950 in a suspect's possession when they are arrested, it is a misdemeanor that dictates the issuing of a citation and not a felony arrest.
The vast majority of mail theft is done to steal identities which in turn allows criminals to steal thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. That means anyone arrested in the Northern San Joaquin Valley for all practical purposes for being the key players in making identity theft work will get the virtual equivalent of a traffic ticket.
Backers of Proposition 47 can protest all they want that such a situation wasn't the intent. That doesn't get them off the hook.
They mislead voters by portraying it as something it wasn't - an ironclad way of making sure people who committed petty crimes that didn't have major consequences wouldn't clog up the system or be saddled with a serious record that could impede employment among other things.
What voters got instead was a bag of goods. The authors failed to take into account the reality of some rather serious property crimes before carte blanche reducing them to felonies. They may have not been able to see mail theft coming but there is no excuse for gun thefts.
So the real question you need to ask yourself on Proposition 57 is this: Do you trust government bureaucrats to keep you safe? If you do, then by all means vote for Proposition 57 that under truth in advertising laws should be called "The Get out of Jail Free Initiative."
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.