Why I Oppose the So-Called Public Safety & Rehabilitation Act of 2016

IMG_3741I first became acutely aware of the limitations placed on crime victims in the aftermath of my daughter Polly’s 1993 kidnap, rape and murder.
 

Since then I have worked with legislators, victim’s rights organizations, police and prosecutors toward a day when victims achieve equity with violent felons in the criminal justice system.
 

California has a proud victim’s rights history. We have created a body of work that protects crime victims, allows them to retain dignity and respect as they seek justice, and feel safe after justice has been achieved. We have further ensured that criminals are held accountable for their crimes.
 

If Governor Brown’s so-called ‘Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016’ is passed into law, the blood, sweat, and tears of generations of crime victim advocates will be ground underfoot like an immigrant at a Trump rally as violent criminals are released onto our streets and into our neighborhoods.
 

The Governor has said that any felony not included in the paltry list of 23 “violent felonies”  defined in the criminal code would be a “non-violent felony” for purposes of his initiative, because the term “non-violent felony offense” is not defined in the initiative, or elsewhere in California law.
 

In 1982, the voters enacted Proposition 8, the Victim’s Bill of Rights, which defined and listed ‘serious felonies’. While many are not on the ‘violent felony’ list, perhaps they should be. A partial list of crimes that are not technically considered “violent,” so therefore, qualify as “non-serious, non-violent offenses” eligible for early release in the Governor’s initiative include:

 

  • Human Trafficking Involving Forced Labor or Services (Pen. Code 222)
  • Human Trafficking Involving Sex Acts, Obscene Matter, or Extortion (Pen. Code 236.1(b))
  • Human Trafficking Involving a Minor and Commercial Sex Acts (Pen. Code 236.1(c))
  • Pimping (Pen. Code 266h)
  • Pandering (Pen. Code 266i)
  • Transporting or Providing a Child Under Age 16 For the Purpose of a Lewd Act (Pen. Code 266j)
  • Abduction of a Minor For the Purpose of Prostitution (Pen. Code 267)

This partial list also obliterates Proposition 35, a victim’s rights bill which had the support of 81% of voters when it passed into law in 2012, and determined that human trafficking is a ‘crime against human dignity and grievous violation of basic human and civil rights.
 

I’m very proud to be a small part of a movement that has helped to cut California’s violent crime rate in half since my daughter was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 1993. However, according to the FBI Preliminary Uniform Crime Report for 2015, in California violent crime was up 12.9% during the first 6-months of 2015 as compared to the first 6-months of 2014. This represents the first significant rise in violent crime in more than two decades.
 

The lessons of the past should steer us towards ensuring lasting legacies for generations yet to be born. Instead, they are being ignored as future generations become guinea pigs for a social experiment that doomed to failure.
 

I want to be sure that we all understand what kind of people we are talking about here. There has been a lot of talk this morning about the power of rehabilitation, so I would like to remind you that the individual who stole, raped, and murdered my Polly had successfully completed rehabilitation and job training programs before being released from prison for serving one half of a sixteen-year-sentence for his second kidnapping. Yet three-months later my daughter was dead. Prior to being released from prison he told cellmates that when he got out he would avoid AIDS by getting a young one. You see, this sadistic psychopath’s definition of safe sex was to steal, rape and murder a twelve-year-old girl.
 

This may sound harsh, but ask yourself how you would feel if your child, sister, or mother became the next victim of a remorseless psychopath in a world that releases dangerous criminals onto the streets as violence again spirals out of control.

National Victim Rights Week

Victims 9

Today National Victim’s Rights Week was acknowledged on the West Steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento. Crime Victims United sponsored an event, so there were plenty of speeches and participating politicians included Governor Jerry Brown. However, it was the victims and murder victim family members who really stood out because each and every one interrupted their lives in order to take a stand for victim’s rights, acknowledge their lost loved ones, and lobby their legislators for effective public safety policy and legislation.

Victims Prayer

Victims Prayer

The importance of being personally involved in the political process cannot be overstated. I’ve been doing it since 1993, when my daughter was murdered by a violent offender with an extensive criminal history. In those days, there were very few legislative fall back positions for children who were being victimized. Call me a cynic, but I truly believe that was because kids don’t vote and politicians don’t have to look them in the eye. Therefore they didn’t have a real voice.

Victims 4

Things have changed enormously since then as the result of a series of tragic crimes and effective children’s advocates. We have Amber Alerts, Megan’s Law, law enforcement missing child protocols, and greater awareness and education surrounding child safety and child welfare issues.

Crime Victim's Harriet Salarno, Lexie Ashford, and Nina Salarno-Ashford

Crime Victim’s Harriet Salarno, Lexie Ashford, and Nina Salarno-Ashford

When I refer to being involved in the political process I’m not talking about the process as practiced in the houses of government that results in political perp walks on the 11:00 p.m. News. I don’t mean politicians like U.S. Congressman Mark Foley who left Washington D.C. in disgrace after he was found soliciting young boys serving as Congressional pages. I don’t mean pious hypocrites like Leland Yee, who I saw walking the halls of California’s Capitol on the day he got arrested, however I don’t think he’d been arrested yet because he wasn’t wearing handcuffs. I don’t mean corrupt politicians like state Senator’s Ronald Calderon and Roderick Wright who yesterday joined Yee in having their names and online archives disappear from the Senate website yesterday.

Sweet Polly...Never Forgotten!

Sweet Polly…Never Forgotten!

In 1995, I joined Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a coalition of prosecutors, police chiefs and crime victims lobbying for prevention funding for at-risk children. In 1995 the federal government was funding quality pre-school and after school activities for 10,000 children, but today, in large part because of people like you and me who became personally involved in the political process that number has grown to 1,000,000.

John

John

I don’t mean the ideological political process that paralyzes legislative bodies throughout the United States. People have differences, but can usually find common ground on the issues that are important to us, particularly if those issues regard the well-being of our kids. However, ideological politics has paralyzed the legislative process so that nothing meaningful ever gets done.

With 3-Strikes guru Mike Reynolds

With 3-Strikes guru Mike Reynolds

Let me give you an example that perfectly illustrates how popular and common sense policy concepts that cannot get a vote in the legislature can become law when people become involved. In 2011 I spent a lot of time here at the Capitol with Chris Kelly, Suzanne DiNubile and others lobbying for legislation requiring registered sex offenders to include Internet identifiers like email address and social networking handles. We watched as two separate bills died in committee. In 2012 that concept became an integral component of Prop. 35. Under Daphne Phung’s vision and leadership Prop. 35 passed by the widest margin of any initiative in California history with more than 81% of the vote.

Victims 6

Today I went to the Capitol because National Victim’s Rights week is April 6-12. It represents an opportunity for people like me to remind our elected officials what’s really important. I’ve always felt that their primary duty is public safety, but the isolation and insulation of this building confuses them and sometimes they need to be reminded what is important and who they serve.

No more victims

No more victims

Right now there is a disturbing trend in the Capitol that is putting us all at risk. Many of the accomplishments that cut California’s crime rate in half 20-years ago is being undone by the legislators in this very building. Governor Brown’s realignment policy has dumped tens of thousands of violent criminals onto our streets. The repeal of 3-strikes will allow thousands of lifers to go free. Failure to enforce Jessica’s Law has allowed an untold number of registered sex offenders to abscond. A law written by Senator Lee will allow remorseless killers to be released back into society, and finally Governor Brown’s decision to parole more than twice as many lifers than his three predecessors combined.

Color Guard

Without people like us making our views known to our elected officials we will find ourselves in dire straits. Because we live in dynamic communities that change and evolve and sometimes can be hazardous, while they live in marble lined halls where your hands don’t get dirty and your farts don’t smell. Sometimes they just need to be reminded that people matter, that showing the courage to do the right thing is more important than toeing the line for rigid ideology, or making decisions based on personal gain.