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Gov. Jerry Brown Proposes Ballot Initiative on Criminal Sentences

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SACRAMENTO --

For J.L. Carr, prison came after his life as a fashion designer under Bill Blass and before he became a pastor.

"I actually ended  up going to prison three times before I finally realized what God was trying to tell me," said Carr, who now runs Associated Prison Ministries.

Having had to start life over as a parolee, he knows what it takes to regain stability and purpose.

"Housing, jobs, communication," he said.

That's why he started Associated Prison Ministries and why he's glad to see the governor pushing a ballot initiative to reintroduce some discretion into sentencing for nonviolent second strikers.

"Oh this is very positive," Carr said.

Almost 40 years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown helped institute "determinate sentencing" into the penal system -- taking discretion for sentencing and parole terms away from judges.

Then California's "three strikes and you're out" law was approved by voters in 1994, requiring repeat offenders face stiffer penalties.

Wednesday, at an Arts Council celebration, Brown joked about how political speeches gets crafted.

"It's directed by very careful surveys that indicate what it is you want to hear," he said as laughter filled the Crest Theatre.

But, no glib exchange as he left the Crest through an alley -- refusing to talk on camera about his new proposal to fix what he says were serious unintended consequences of a policy he put in place.

It's policy he now acknowledges leaves offenders with no time-reducing motivation for personal progress in rehab, education or other programs.

He did share some thoughts on the situation by phone.

"One of the key, unintended consequences was the removal of incentives for inmates to improve themselves," said Brown.

"Nor did I understand that the recidivism rate would sharply increase," he said.

"It was actually making people ... it'd become really futile to make any attempts to make a change," said Carr, recalling what he lived through and what the inmates and parolees he serves are experiencing now.

Some chief probation officers in our area agree the governor's proposal is what the state needs.

"The goal of what the governor has laid out in the proposal has the promise of building a  foundation of a better system of public safety," said Mark Bonini, chief probation officer of Amador County.

"All of these offenders will be coming back to our communities and our communities will be safer if we equip them with the necessary tools when they come out," said Chief Probation Officer of Napa County Mary Butler.

In addition to allowing for incentives, the governor's plan would also allow sanctions when warranted that would subtract from a prisoner's credits toward an earlier release.

Juvenile offenders could also be treated differently if the governor's ballot measure eventually becomes law, bring the system back to what it was before Proposition 21.

Judges would determine whether or not a case involving a juvenile is fit for juvenile court or should more appropriately be transferred to adult court for sentencing.