By DON THOMPSON, Associated Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California said Monday that it will fight a judge’s ruling ordering the state to consider earlier parole for potentially thousands of sex offenders, such as those convicted of raping an unconscious person.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration will appeal the order by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner, said Vicky Waters, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The judge previously said in a tentative ruling that prison officials must rewrite part of the parole regulations in a ballot measure passed by voters in 2016.
No inmates will be released while the appeal is underway, Waters said. She said in a statement that the ruling “does not reflect the intent of California’s voters who approved Proposition 57 by a 2-to-1 margin.”
The ballot measure allows earlier parole for most state inmates as a way of reducing the prison population, but the Democratic governor promised voters that all sex offenders would be excluded.
California will challenge the judge’s decision that only those serving time for a violent sex offense are not eligible for early parole. He also ordered corrections officials to better define what crimes fall into that category.
Sumner ruled that those who previously completed prison sentences for sex crimes, even violent ones, should be eligible for earlier release if they are now imprisoned for a non-sex crime.
“Had the voters intended to categorically exclude all registered sex offenders from parole review under Proposition 57, they would have said so,” he wrote.
Sacramento attorney Janice Bellucci, who sued over the parole rules as president of California Reform Sex Offender Laws, estimates that the judge’s order could allow earlier parole consideration for more than half of the 20,000 sex offenders now in state prisons.
She called the ruling “a significant victory for prisoners convicted of a sex offense.”
Bellucci argued that the language of the ballot measure requires earlier parole consideration for any sex crime not on the state’s narrow list of 23 violent felonies, which includes murder, kidnapping and “forcible rape.”
That could allow earlier parole for those convicted of crimes including raping a drugged or unconscious victim, intimately touching someone who is unlawfully restrained, incest, indecent exposure, pimping a minor, or possessing child pornography.
The ruling leaves room for corrections officials to exclude some of those crimes in the rewritten regulations, though Bellucci said she could sue again depending on what officials decide.