Last Sunday was a bloody one in Northern California. In the early morning hours on Sunday April 3rd, as people were leaving a night club in downtown Sacramento, automatic weapons fire rang out sending people fleeing. When the victims were counted, 18 people were shot and six were dead.
Later that day at the Alice Chalmers Playground in San Francisco, four more people would be shot – and two would die.
The City of Sacramento lost 57 victims to homicide in 2021 – the highest since 2006 and San Francisco lost 56. Both cities saw an increase in homicides in 2020 as well. San Francisco reported an additional 222 non-fatal shooting victims.
2021 records are still being compiled but it doesn’t look good.
On Tuesday, the Sacramento Bee reported three suspects have been arrested and one of them, Smiley Allen Martin, had been granted early release, over the objections of the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) under Prop 57.
Passed by the voters in 2016, Prop 57, the so-called “Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act,” was designed to reduce the length of sentences for individuals serving time for violent crimes committed during California’s “get tough on crime” era of the 1990’s. It allows for early release for inmates deemed by the CDCR to be suitable through a variety of criteria. Where in the past individuals serving sentences for violent crimes were required to serve at least 85% of time served before they would be eligible for early release, CDCR’s new rules allow for early release at just 50% of time served.
CDCR reports that in 2018 they released 1,136 felons, another 1,184 in 2019, 1,234 in 2020, 1,424 in 2021, and 188 to date in 2022 — for a total of 5,166.
In December 2021, Sacramento County District Attorney Ann Marie Schubert was successful in obtaining an injunction against further Prop 57 releases for violent offenders. For now.
What else has Prop 57 done?
It has allowed for people convicted of multiple offenses involving multiple victims to be eligible for release as if they had committed just one offense with one victim.
Repeat offenders are eligible for release after serving the same sentence as first-time offenders.
Offenders who engaged in egregious conduct (enhanced sentences for the use of a gun, or particularly cruel and injurious victimization) are eligible for release, as if those facts did not exist.
Worse, Prop. 57 prohibits a District Attorney from filing of adult charges against juveniles, even for violent crimes including homicide, rape, carjacking. This reverses Prop 21, passed by the voters in 2000. Criminals know this and the exploitation of juveniles by criminal street gangs has recommenced. For example in LA County in 2000 there were 945.8 violent crimes per 100,000. By 2015, the year before Prop 57 was passed, it had dropped nearly in half to 496.9. After Prop 57 was enacted in 2019, it increased back up 554.6.
Smiley Martin and the other three suspects arrested so far are due their day in court, but it’s also true that the victims deserved a night out free from the violence that befell them.
Said State Senator Jim Nielsen of the Sacramento shooting, “this tragic loss of life once again demonstrates that California is failing miserably on all fronts of the criminal justice system.”
Right now, California’s amazing emergency rooms and trauma centers are all that is preventing a far greater death toll.
Policymakers need to be reminded that even well-meaning laws can have unintended consequences. Certainly, there are no guarantees that any one individual will not reoffend – but the increasing violent crime rates over a multi-year period indicate a trend, and for the sake of the victims and their families, that trend needs to end.
Steve Smith is a senior fellow in urban studies at the Pacific Research Institute.