Former Gov. Jerry Brown Donates $1M to Defeat Police-Backed Ballot Measure

Former California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during the Center for American Progress 10th Anniversary Conference in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 24, 2013. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Former California Gov. Jerry Brown is donating $1 million to defeat Proposition 20, a November ballot measure backed by police and prosecutors that aims to roll back some of the criminal justice reforms he championed over the past decade.

Brown — who still has a nearly $15 million war chest in his 2014 campaign account — said in an exclusive interview with KQED that he is donating the money because he believes the measure will make prisons less safe by making it far more difficult for thousands of inmates to have a chance at parole.

That, he said, will lead to more prison violence and gangs.

“Prop. 20 wants to basically eliminate all hope in the prison,” Brown said. “Men who have given decades will have no chance to earn their way back to society. And that's fundamental to any kind of criminal justice system that while you impose punishment, you make room for redemption and rehabilitation in the prison.”

The former governor is referring to provisions in Proposition 20 that would undercut another state ballot measure: Proposition 57, which Brown authored in 2016. Proposition 57 allowed thousands of state prison inmates to appear before the parole board early and win release if they could demonstrate they have been rehabilitated.

At the time, Brown said it would help reverse laws put into place the first time he was governor 40 years ago that drove up California’s massive incarceration rates and led to overcrowding in prisons.

But Richard Temple, a spokesman for the Yes on Proposition 20 side, said Brown never told voters in 2016 that Proposition 57 would allow violent criminals a chance at parole.

“There are violent crimes that under California law are not classified as violence. And therefore, these criminals are allowed early release, which is not what Proposition 57 promised,” he said, citing rape of an unconscious person, sex trafficking of a minor, domestic violence, and assault with a deadly weapon as crimes that would be classified as violent under Proposition 20.

“What Prop. 20 does is simply go in and say, no, these are clearly violent crimes. We want to classify them as violent,” Temple said.

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But that’s not all Proposition 20 would do — the measure would also roll back key provisions of other reforms, including 2014’s Proposition 47, which is credited with keeping tens of thousands of men and women out of prisons and jails and saving California taxpayers $122 million this fiscal year alone.

Critics of Proposition 20 have warned that it could lead to more Black and brown Californians being locked up, drive up prison and jail populations, increase public spending on law enforcement and incarceration by hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and divert resources from programs that rehabilitate former offenders.

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Brown noted that offenders eligible for early parole under Proposition 57 aren’t automatically released — they must petition the parole board, which is largely made up of former law enforcement officials. And, he charged that police and prosecutors, the main sponsors of Proposition 20, either have a vested interest in keeping jail and prison populations high or just don’t think people can be reformed.

“The only reason that some police unions have tried to fight it — and the DAs — is that they are part of an enterprise that depends, for its growth, on more people being locked up,” he said. “Or they have this ideology that there can be no redemption, no improvement, that once a man commits one act, three or four acts, that that is his whole essence forever.”

The Yes on Proposition 20 side has about $1.6 million in the bank, while a spokeswoman for the No side said they will have more than $5 million on hand once Brown’s contribution arrives.

But Temple said he isn’t worried about the gulf between the campaign funds.

“The beauty of having a really solid idea, a really solid issue that you're promoting is that you don't need to go toe to toe,” Temple said. “When you're right, it makes it less expensive to win an argument ... And in this case, we're right.”