To the Editor:
Recently, California passed Proposition 57, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation act of 2016. Prop 57 was supposed to get nonviolent offenders out of prison and get them the rehabilitation programs they needed to get back on their feet. By definition legally, any crime not expressly defined as “violent” in section 1192.7(c) of the penal code is considered nonviolent.
In fact, legally the term “nonviolent” includes crimes most of us consider violent, for example; rape of an unconscious person, domestic violence, arson of forest land, and assault with a deadly weapon. We are now seeing criminals we all would consider violent offenders being released after serving only a fraction of their sentence.
For example, recently Kenneth Jackson, convicted of 21 counts of arson of forest land in Yosemite Lakes Park and sentenced to over 30 years in prison, has come up for parole consideration after serving just 4 years. When this defendant completed his sentence for 1 of the 21 arsons, he was eligible for parole consideration.
Jackson was charged with a violent crime of which the jury acquitted him. However, even that “violent” conviction would merely have delayed his parole consideration for only 1 year. There will be no parole board in this case. This defendant’s file, including letters submitted by the victims and the District Attorney’s office will be reviewed by a single parole officer who will make a decision, record his reasons, and move on to the next file.
Currently, we have no right to appeal any decision to release Jackson. If he is denied parole this year, his file will be reviewed again next year and every year thereafter until he is released, creating a problem for our community.
While it is tempting to throw up our hands in frustration at these kinds of events, for the sake of public safety, we cannot. That is why I am collaborating with Cal Fire, to look at moving this type of arson into the category of violent crimes. Adding those crimes common sense dictates are violent to the legal definition of violent crimes may be one part of the solution. Another part is vigorous opposition to each and every dangerous felon being released before serving their sentence. These actions won’t solve every problem prosecutors currently face trying to keep communities safe. But they are a start.
Sally O. Moreno
Candidate for Madera County District Attorney