By: Beth Chapman
AUGUST 17, 2017
An open letter to the rapper Common:
We are sure you are sincere and passionate in your desire to hold your concert in Sacramento on Monday to raise awareness for justice reform.
But to the extent your advocacy worsens the downsides of existing reforms, or promotes questionable new ones now before lawmakers such as Senate Bill 10, you would be wise to understand that recent laws and numerous voter-approved propositions in California already allow for the release of tens of thousands of inmates on an ongoing basis. This is contributing to rising crime throughout our state, especially in the inner cities.
Under Proposition 57, passed in 2016, California provides for an early release to individuals who commit “non-violent crimes” including rape by intoxication, rape of an unconscious person, human trafficking involving sex act with minors, drive-by shooting, assault with a deadly weapon, taking a hostage, domestic violence involving trauma, possession of a bomb or weapon of mass destruction, hate crime causing physical injury, arson causing great bodily injury, discharging a firearm on school grounds, corporal injury to a child, and false imprisonment of an elderly person.
Proposition 57 also expanded the credits inmates can earn for good behavior and completing rehabilitation programs behind bars, including those charged with murder and child molestation.
Under Proposition 47, passed in 2014, several drug possession felonies were reduced to misdemeanors. It requires misdemeanor sentencing for petty theft, receiving stolen property and forging/writing bad checks when the amount involved is $950 or less.
As tens of thousands of inmates have been released from jails, crime has risen, and with reduced sentencing, fewer drugs offenders are enrolling in court-ordered treatment centers. In Los Angeles County alone, enrollment in specialized drug court programs dropped 50 percent from October 2014 to October 2015.
In California, most people charged with a crime already are automatically released with a signed promise to appear in court. Under that promise to appear, there are currently 1.7 million outstanding warrants for arrest.
Among those sitting in jail, the American Civil Liberties Union found that 87 percent had “non-financial” related holds – immigration holds, parole violations, multiple failures to appear, crimes that were violent in nature, the person was a danger to the public and/or victim, and so forth.
Some of the biggest problems with SB 10 concern its lack of provision for a defendant’s risk to the public, victims’ safety, likelihood to flee, the cost of a pretrial system to county services and, most importantly, the issues of bail stacking and bail schedules.
If you truly support reform for our bail system, then you must address the issue of cost and bail stacking, in which a defendant is charged with multiple crimes against the same victim. In these instances, the bail is “stacked” by aggregating all bail amounts for each charge to create a more costly total bail amount. SB 10 gets rid of bail agents, but fails to address bail schedules and bail stacking.
Before performing next week, you should sit down with our judicial committee, district attorneys, law enforcement, bail agents and crime victims to get a better understanding of what you are advocating. Get all sides of the story, and don’t let yourself be made a fool or blinded by what may be happening in other states. California is unique, and you should take note that this system is already very lenient with criminals.
BETH CHAPMAN STARED IN “DOG THE BOUNTY HUNTER” ON THE A&E TELEVISION NETWORK. SHE IS PRESIDENT OF THE PROFESSIONAL BAIL AGENTS OF THE UNITED STATES. THEY CAN BE REACHED AT @MRSDOGC.