Initially, Proposition 57 seemed to be a feasible solution to California’s prison overcrowding. It promised that nonviolent offenders would be offered parole if they had already served their primary sentences and did not pose any threat to society. However, this changed when Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner ruled that thousands of sexual offenders would be eligible for parole under Proposition 57’s “nonviolent crime” clause.
On March 5, the state of California announced that it will appeal Judge Summer’s ruling by arguing that those convicted of sexual violence should be denied the possibility of parole, despite Governor’s Brown promise to exempt all sexual crimes from Proposition 57. The current definition of violent crimes is problematic for Proposition 57 because it neglects several atrocious sexual crimes such as rape of an unconscious victim and pimping a minor, as well as allows potential sex criminals and predators to roam free into society.
The FBI Uniform Crime Reporting program provides a nationwide definition of violent crimes “as those offenses which involve force or threat of force,” which is as short-sighted and vagued as the one stated in Proposition 57. Violent crimes should not be solely based on whether the perpetrator used force or not, but also on the physical and psychological damages caused on the victims.
An article from Science American by Dr. Hal Arkowitz, a professor emeritus from the University of Arizona, and Dr. Scott O. Lilienfeld, a professor from the Emory College of Arts and Sciences, seems to validate Judge Summer’s verdict that sexual offenders might not pose a risk to society. Dr. Arkowitz and Dr. Lilienfeld argue that there is a low percentage of repeat sex offenders. The total recidivism of sexual offenders was about 36 percent in a period of five to six years. Another interesting finding in the article pertains to the individual relapse rates in each sex crime, which is “13 percent for incest perpetrators, 24 percent for rapists and 35 percent for child molesters of boy victims.”
Regardless of the low rate of sex crime reoffending, Jazmine Ulloa, a member of Los Angeles Times Sacramento Bureau, critiqued Proposition 57 in one of her articles by drawing attention to the arrest of Max Factor’s great grandson Andrew Luster. A repeated sex offender, Luster was first arrested in early 2000s after being accused of rape. Luster paid his $1 million bail and was released. In his second arrest years later, Luster was “convicted of 86 counts of poisoning, sexual battery and rape of an unconscious or intoxicated person.” What shocked Ulloa and Californians in general was that a criminal like Luster is considered nonviolent by California law, despite videotaping the assaults of three drugged women.
A person who has suffered drug-facilitated sexual assault is likely to feel several physical side effects as a result of the drug administered by the perpetrator. The West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services (FRIS) listed them in the drug-facilitated sexual assault section of its website. Some of the effects include “unexplained soreness or injuries,” non-alcohol related intoxication, or signs of PTSD. These effects are enough to demonstrate that some sort of violence occurred. Forcing someone to consume a potentially life-threatening drug — because there is a risk of an overdose death — is an act of coercion the must must be considered a violent crime.
Any action that harms human integrity — whether it is physically, psychologically or sexually — is hideous crime, no matter the reasons the government or the perpetrator have machinated to excuse it. There is no reason to harm another human being.
If Judge Summer’s ruling on sexual offenders is not successfully appealed in court, it could be problematic for the state of California. An Associated Press article for KCRA 3 estimated that the “judge’s order could allow earlier parole consideration for more than half of the 20,000 sex offenders now in state prisons.” Thus the possibility that thousands of potential Andrew Lusters could be released into society without any rehabilitation is a dire one because no one can guarantee that they are not going to reincide. Despite the low reivindism rate claimed by Dr. Hal Arkowitz and Dr. Scott O. Lilienfeld in committing sexual crimes, it is a gamble that might harm people.
Another point of contention with Judge Summer’s decision is that under California law, it is difficult to change the definition of a violent crime. Ulloa argued that the approval of proposition 21 complicated any modification to the violent felony code “by requiring any bill seeking to do so to receive a two-thirds majority vote in each house.”
There was a glimpse of hope to broaden the definition of violent crime last year when Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) filed a proposal that would modify the Violent Felony code to include “all forms of rape, spousal rape, sodomy, oral copulation and sexual penetration committed against a victim incapable of consent, including those victims who are intoxicated or mentally ill.”
Additionally, there is an initiative that seeks to define violent crimes, and if enough signatures are collected, it can be placed on ballot for this year’s state elections. It is known as California Violent Crime Definition, DNA Collection and Parole Initiative (2018). It would grant parole consideration to nonviolent offenders while permitting felony sentences to certain misdemeanors. As of now, this ballot is the only other feasible alternative to correct the loose definition of violent crimes in California, since assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) and Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) failed in the state congress.
It is urgent for California to define the concept of violent crime that Proposition 57 requires. People cannot accept rapists roaming freely in society since they are a potential danger to it, due to a mere technicality. What can be done is to support the California Violent Crime Definition, DNA Collection and Parole Initiative in this upcoming state elections to prevent potential releases of violent offenders by unconscionable judges.
Sebastian Suarez is a fourth-year political science major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.