California law gives victims of crime the right to speak out at sentencing and parole hearings, but supporters of Prop 9 say crime victims‘ rights cannot stop there.
“Victims should have the right to be involved in all the proceedings,” said Patricia Wenskunas, attempted murder victim and founder and CEO of Crime Survivors Inc. “A lot of times right now the families are not even notified. [Prop 9] gives them a right to have their voice heard.“
If passed, the proposition would amend the state constitution to require courts to notify victims about proceedings in all stages of the legal process. The measure would also allow victims to participate in bail hearings and pleas.
Prop 9 would increase the waiting period between parole hearings from between one and five years to between three and 15 years and significantly tighten restrictions on early release.
“I don’t think we need to let [inmates] out early,” said Wenskunas “If you’re given five years you should do five years.“
According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, Prop 9 could cost Californians tax dollars ranging in the hundreds of millions.
“It’s a huge cost burden to the state,” said Lindsay Shoemaker, communications director for the No on Prop 9 campaign. “This money would be coming out of health care, education, fire and other vital services.“
Shoemaker said the legal impact of Prop 9 would be negligible.
“It’s not going to affect that many people. The parole rate for the people that this proposition targets is less than 1 percent.“
Even without the cost, Prop 9 is unnecessary and redundant, Shoemaker said.
“These laws are already on the books, they just need to be enforced,” she said. “There are other ways to do this.“
Opponents argue many of the problems Prop 9 deals with could be addressed by the legislature and prison system directly.
“We don’t need a constitutional amendment,” said Millard Murphy, lecturer and clinical director of the Prison Law Clinic at UC Davis. “The parole board and the prisons need to change their policy.“
Murphy said the changes to parole laws in Prop 9 could be a civil rights concern.
“The prisoners have a due process right to [parole hearings],” he said. “It’s just going to keep inmates in prison longer.“
Bilenda Harris-Ritter, former commissioner on the Board of Parole hearings and trustee to Parents of Murdered Children Inc., disagrees.
“There are a number of states that have significantly higher times between parole dates,” she said. “If there were a due process problem it would have been dealt with.“
Harris-Ritter said the current laws can cause victims financial hardship. In the current system, criminals pay fines and penalties before they pay restitution to victims. Restitution is money those convicted of crimes are ordered to pay for property loss or damage caused in the commission of a crime.
“This initiative would mean that when there is restitution the victims would be first in line.“
The most important thing is making victims heard, she said.
“I think a lot of [crime victims] don’t feel that they are involved and that their concerns aren’t going to be listened to,” she said. “[Prop 9] gives victims a better sense of feeling that they are part of the process.“
For more information on Prop 9, visit voterguide.sos.ca.gov.
JON GJERDE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.