Crime & Justice

California Supreme Court allows governor's prison plan

In this Jan. 7, 2016 file photo, Gov. Jerry Brown answers a question concerning his proposed 2016-17 state budget at a news conference, in Sacramento, Calif. California’s Supreme Court is set to hear arguments over Brown’s efforts to put his plan to reduce the state’s prison population before voters in November. Oral arguments are scheduled for Thursday morning, May 5, 2016, though the justices will not issue a ruling at the hearing.
In this Jan. 7, 2016 file photo, Gov. Jerry Brown answers a question concerning his proposed 2016-17 state budget at a news conference, in Sacramento, Calif. California’s Supreme Court is set to hear arguments over Brown’s efforts to put his plan to reduce the state’s prison population before voters in November. Oral arguments are scheduled for Thursday morning, May 5, 2016, though the justices will not issue a ruling at the hearing.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

The California Supreme Court Monday allowed Gov. Jerry Brown's bid to put his plan to reduce the state's prison population before voters in November.

The justices rejected a lower court ruling that said Brown improperly amended a juvenile justice initiative to increase sentencing credits for adult inmates and allow earlier parole for non-violent felons.

The lower court judge said the governor's changes violated a 2014 law that requires that amendments are reasonably related to the original initiative and new initiatives receive 30 days of public comment.

But the high court said in its 6-1 ruling that the legislature intended the comment period to "facilitate feedback, not to create a broad public forum." The legislature also did not preclude "substantive amendments," the court said.

"(Californians) will now have a chance to improve public safety by voting to provide incentives so that more people follow the rules, educate themselves, and turn their lives around," Dan Newman, a spokesman for Brown and other initiative supporters, said in an email. "This will reduce recidivism, encourage former criminals to become productive taxpayers, and prevent arbitrary court-ordered release of dangerous criminals."

Brown had said the changes were needed to help keep the inmate population below the level required by federal judges, and it was too late to start over while still collecting the nearly 586,000 signatures needed for a ballot measure this year.

"We are disappointed in the decision by the Supreme Court and continue to believe this sets a dangerous precedent for the initiative process for the future," said Steve Wagstaffe, president-elect of the California District Attorneys Association, which sued to block Brown's initiative.

The association had accused Brown of completely rewriting the original juvenile justice measure to sidestep the normal initiative process.

The lower court ruling blocked Attorney General Kamala Harris from issuing documents that Brown supporters needed to gather the signatures required to put his initiative on this year's ballot. Harris has said allowing that judge's interpretation would invite similar lawsuits against nearly 40 other ballot measures that were amended after they were initially filed. She has argued that "substantive, even sweeping" amendments are permitted.