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Crime Victims Group Seeks Rollback Of California Sentencing Reforms

SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) -- Crime victims rallied at the state Capitol Monday to seek a rollback to recent changes in the state legal system on crime sentencing which scaled back criminal penalties. The rally was interrupted by protesters angry over the fatal police shooting of an unarmed man in Sacramento last month.

The rally called attention to the changes lawmakers and California voters have made to the ways criminals are treated, such as early jail release and turning some crimes that used to be felonies into misdemeanors. Crime victims and their supporters gathered Monday to say it's gone too far.

"This stuff has got to stop," said El Dorado County Sheriff John D'Agostino. "The pendulum has swung far enough."

From 2015 to 2016, violent crime in California increased four percent. Sheriff D'Agostino says three laws are to blame: AB 10,  which moved some state prisoners into county jails, Prop 47 which turned some felonies into misdemeanors, Prop 57 which allows some criminals to petition for early parole.

"It limits us. Law enforcement. It limits me. It limits my peers all across this state," said D'Agostino.

Gov. Jerry Brown endorsed all three of those recent laws and has warned against repealing reduced criminal penalties. But he gave a brief speech at the rally, noting that California voters "don't have unanimous views on anything."

"Today I want to talk as a human being because in a few more months, I won't be a politician, I'll be a human being like you," said Brown. "And what's important is that we bind up our wounds. Remember, a life is not just vengeance. It's also redemption and forgiveness."

Other activists chided the governor for not speaking out about Stephon Clark, the unarmed young man who shot and killed by Sacramento police last month.

Protesters also targeted Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who hasn't decided if two Sacramento police officers should face criminal charges for fatally shooting the 22-year-old black man last month when they say they thought he had a gun. Investigators found only a cellphone.

"I will always stand with victims. I will always do what's right. And I will always follow the facts and the law," said Schubert as protesters tried to drown her out.

The group that put on the event Monday, Crime Victims United are gathering signatures for a ballot measure that would roll back portions of the measures passed in 2014 and 2016.

Domestic violence survivor Jennifer Adkins said her attacker was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2015 on charges of assault with a deadly weapon, making terrorist threats, causing injury and assaulting a police officer. "I just recently found out last year under Proposition 57, a 12-year sentence that he was sentenced to is now only having to serve three," she said. "I fear for my life."

"I truly hope each and every legislator that sits behind us comfortably will listen to what their so-called reforms have caused the good people, the individuals, the victims of California," said Nina Salarno Besselman, President of Crime Victims United of California, whose older sister was murdered in 1979.

Critics call the proposed measure a step in the wrong direction.

"In many ways I see this initiative as a desire to revert back to the failed policies of the past," Lenore Anderson said, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, which organized a 2014 campaign reducing penalties for certain drug and property crimes.

She cites studies by public policy institutes and academic researchers in arguing that most lengthy prison sentences could be reduced by up to 25 percent without significantly increasing crime, freeing money for programs to further reduce criminal behavior.

Another proposed initiative would expand on recent changes by ending life sentences for inmates convicted for the third time of nonviolent crimes including burglaries and robberies under the state's three-strikes law. Offenders would be resentenced as second-strikers, a move that doubles their prison terms.

Supporters "feel like they were bamboozled" when corrections officials excluded nonviolent third strikers from parole consideration despite the 2016 reform measure, Mitch McDowell said, founder of the nonprofit We the People Org. Statistics show those inmates are disproportionately black or mentally ill and are among the least likely to commit new crimes if they are released, said Stanford Three Strikes Project Director Michael Romano.

Violent crime in California increased about 4 percent from 2015 to 2016, while property crime dropped about 3 percent. Violent crime was up 10 percent and property crime was up 8 percent the previous year.

Two earlier measures affecting mostly lower level offenders have had no effect on violent crime and minimal effects on property crime, said University of California, Irvine, researcher Charis Kubrin. Her results, to be published in August by the academic journal Criminology & Public Policy, are consistent with unaffiliated research by the Public Policy Institute of California on the effects of earlier changes, though researchers say it's too soon to gage results from the 2016 initiative.

Supporters of tougher policies argue that penalties for property and drug crimes are now so minimal that many are never reported, skewing crime statistics.


© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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