In the nearly seven years he’s been governor, Jerry Brown’s been frank about why he’s supported bold criminal justice reform, like Prop. 57, the 2016 ballot measure that, among other things, offers sentence credits to inmates who take advantage of rehabilitative programming.
“I helped screw things up, but I helped unscrew things,” he said Friday at a forum put on by the California Prison Industry Authority, the state agency that provides work assignments and job training for state prisoners. The goal of the forum, held at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation was to encourage San Diego employers to hire ex-offenders.
The screw-up Brown referred to was a 1976 bill he signed during his first stint as governor that ended indeterminate sentencing in California. Prior to that, people were released when the parole board decided they were ready. At the time, Brown said, he thought determinate sentencing — a set prison term — would provide inmates and victims more certainty. Instead, California saw its prison population skyrocket from 25,000 when the bill took effect to 174,000 at its peak in 2006.
“We set in motion the atmosphere that the Legislature’s job is to keep changing the sentencing. And they did that very well. They passed thousands of tough-on-crime laws,” he said. “All that filled up the prisons, and they were hanging from the rafters.”
Brown’s given similar talks at other Prison Industry Authority employer forums during his current tenure. But with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation working on Prop. 57 guidelines — which could mean early release for thousands of prisoners — there’s more of an imperative to persuade employers that ex-offenders are worth hiring.
Brown, who once studied to become a Jesuit priest, peppered his talk with moments that verged on sermon.