Proposition 9: What the Voters Passed, by Sara Olson, Central California Women?s Facility (CCWF)

In the 2008 election, while the public?s attention was focused on electing the nation?s first African-American president, not many besides prisoners, their families and advocacy groups noticed the passage of Proposition 9, a.k.a. Marsy?s Law. Marsy?s Law is a disaster for life-term prisoners – lifers – who must face the reactionary state Parole Board (Board of Parole Hearings or BPH) in order to secure a parole date. While few lifers were given parole dates before Marsy?s Law, now parole for lifers could well become a relic of the past.
A lifer must appear many times before the BPH before a date is granted. If a date is granted, a prisoner must wait for 150 days to find out whether or not the current governor will block their date, an inherently politicized decision. In between parole denials, inmates get rollovers. A rollover is the time between one parole hearing and the next.
Before, rollovers were for one to two years. They could be given for five years if a prisoner was convicted of first or second degree murder but that was not usual. Marsy?s Law sets 15 years as the standard rollover. Thus, a lifer sent to prison in her early 20s has her first parole hearing at 40 years old and she is rolled over for 15 years. At 55, she gets rolled over for 15 years once again.
Essentially, Marsy?s law converts a life term to LWOP (Life Without Possibility of Parole). It eliminates hope and removes all incentive to rehabilitate. The potential for 15-year rollovers tells inmates? families, ?They?re never coming home.? It destroys family ties.
Proposition 9 has many other harmful provisions. It states that the Department of Corrections cannot reduce sentences or call for early release of prisoners to reduce overcrowding despite the fact that overcrowding is at an explosive level in California. It requires that a notice of parole hearings be sent to any victim of any felony for which the prisoner has been convicted, including any crime leading to the life term as well as any other felonies. It increases the number of victims? affiliates permitted to attend parole consideration hearings, eliminating the previous requirement that representatives have a specified relationship to the victim of the crime.
Prop. 9 limits parolees? rights, too. A federal judge granted an injunction to stop the implementation of these portions of Marsy?s Law in response to a motion that argued that Prop. 9 ?eliminates parolees? guarantee of counsel except in narrow circumstances, eliminates the ability to confront certain witnesses at parole hearings and restricts consideration of alternatives to prison ? [It] purports to eliminate nearly all due process rights of parolees and directly conflicts with the protections put in place by ? established constitutional law.?
Lifers say that attorneys? attitudes are changing. They are giving up because of Marsy?s Law. Why try when nobody the state appoints them to represent will get a date? Prisoners with board hearing dates come into the prison law library and ask, ?How do I replace my state-appointed lawyer? He won?t help me. I can feel it.?
After realizing how catastrophic Marsy?s Law will be for her chance to parole, one lifer I know at CCWF wrote: ?The Board wants you to prove you?re rehabilitated, to prove that you?re remorseful and to make amends. They want you to change. How can you now? The victim?s family will never change. They don?t care if you do because they get to be your judge, jury and executioner thanks to Prop 9.?
We are excited to share with readers that Sara Olson has just been released on parole!