by Steve Wright
The Family Healing Center will be sharing with KRL’s readers about the things they do once a month.
I thought hard for several days as to what to write about this week without being political. Politics consumed the American public for much too long during this election cycle, and it seemed it would never end. It still seems to be the focus of the media no matter who you watch. Prop 57 was something all eligible Californians had the opportunity to vote on, and it did pass as part of our political process. I will attempt to bring this into a real life, everyday subject that we all need to think about. I see the effects of horrible crime every day, and each of those stories would make your heart hurt and your head spin; some of those stories are not suitable for public consumption.
Anyone who has read any of these articles knows I am Chairman of the Board of a non-profit organization in Fresno that provides resources to victims of child abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence. I am retired from law enforcement, and am a strong victim advocate. I am also pretty conservative in my viewpoints about crime and punishment—but. (There always seems to be a “but” at the end of long qualifying explanatory sentences.) I have worked within the criminal justice system all my career, which spans about 28 years, and I have seen that in some areas it just does not work well. Many people, both inside and outside of the system, will say it is “broken”. I can’t say that I disagree, but of course I would not want to live under any other in the world today.
This article will look at three concepts in summary fashion, and I have placed some links to other websites that you can review for more detailed information. The three topics are (1) Proposition 57; (2) Restorative Justice; and (3) Jeffrey Snyder. I will try to tie these three issues into one, so that what I am saying makes sense.
I decided what I was going to write about this morning as I was getting my morning tea at Starbucks. I happened to look at the Friday issue of the Fresno Bee for November 17, 2016, and saw a very familiar face on the front page: Jeffrey Snyder. The headline said, “Is Home 36 Miles Outside Fresno OK for Molester?” Now you may ask, why was Jeffrey Snyder familiar to me? It’s because of what I do, and the fact that his face has been on the front page of the Fresno Bee three times in the last three months. Jeffrey Snyder is a sexually violent predator, he has served his time in prison, and recently, a judge determined that he should be released and allowed to live in Fresno County. The first location was in a suburban neighborhood in northeast Fresno. The residents were given the opportunity to weigh in on this decision, and they were very vocal in their displeasure. You can read the entire story and see the petition at the first link at the end of this article. The second location, now under consideration, is in a more rural area 36 miles east of Fresno. The location has not been made public yet, but will be soon and we will see what the public has to say. If I were to predict the outcome, I would say they probably will not want him to live there, either.
So the question is, what do we do as a community with a person who has served time in prison, and it is required that the system release them back into society? This is how Proposition 57 fits into this question. Proposition 57 changes sentencing and parole requirements, and allows those who have not committed a violent crime be considered for release from prison after serving the time for the primary crime without consideration for any enhancements, strikes, or consecutive sentences. It also makes an unprecedented step in defining, in sort of a backdoor way, what a non-violent crime is. As you can see, the list of non-violent crimes below shows some pretty heinous acts that would qualify for relief under Prop 57. So as the system evaluates prisoners who are eligible for parole under this proposition, the community must make a decision as to whether they are willing to have these individuals live within their neighborhoods.
If we were using basic logic we would say that since the voters approved Prop 57, they must be fully aware of the impact and consequences; therefore, they must be willing to have any person released early under the proposition live in their neighborhoods. As you can see, many of these crimes are crimes against children, are sex crimes, and crimes of violence. You can read the full analysis article from the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys through the link at the end of this article.
Non-Violent Crimes based on Analysis of Prop 57 –
ADW – deadly weapon & force likely [245(a)(1) and 245(a)(4)]
Battery with Serious Bodily Injury [243(d)]
Solicitation to Commit Murder [653f(b)]
Domestic violence [273.5]
Inflicting corporal injury on a child [PC273d]
First degree burglary [PC 459]
Rape/sodomy/oral copulation of unconscious person or by use of date rape drugs. [ 261(a)(3) & (4), 286(f), 288a(f)]
Human trafficking involving a minor [PC236.1(c)]
Hate crimes [PC 422.7]
Arson of forest land [PC 451(c)] causing physical injury
Assault w/ deadly weapon on Peace officer[245(c)]
Active participation in a street gang [186.22]
Exploding destructive device w/ intent to cause injury 
Restorative Justice is a complex concept and one that not everyone buys into. Our society, for a very long time, has had a “lock them up and throw away the key” type of mindset. With the inundation of social media there are no more secrets, and people do not have private lives. So even a small mistake in life can have far-reaching and forever consequences. How often do we hear conversations about on-line bullying, suicides, and other life-altering situations that occur due to the exposing of someone’s embarrassing moment on social media?
Our society wants to know everything about everyone and they feel they have the right to this information. And having information is not always the problem; it is what we decide to do with it. So if we make the choice to bully, or use information for purely destructive purposes without consideration for others, then it becomes a problem. In some ways our society is not very forgiving, so Restorative Justice can be a tough concept to sell.
Restorative Justice requires a real shift in the hearts and minds of the general public, and it is one of the few ways we can pass propositions like 57.(This would also include Prop 47 of two years ago.) Restorative Justice is a process that is focused on the needs of the victim, not the offender. It allows for all the stakeholders to participate equally in a process to repair harm. The goal is to make the victim whole again, to repair the damage, and to concentrate on what is meaningful to the victim. This concept, if done properly, can truly transform relationships and communities.
There are some who believe Restorative Justice means no punishment or accountability, which is not accurate. We have to come to a realization in our society: The “lock them up and throw away the key” theory of crime control does not work in the long run. You cannot keep every person who commits a crime incarcerated forever, but the punishment can last a lifetime due to social media. So most criminals will at some point be released back into society. As we continue to pass propositions such as Props 47 and 57, we force society to accept the consequences of these poorly-written and ill-defined laws. It is important that we put comprehensive programs in place that will help society understand and believe that the concerns of the public are being considered.
Are there limitations to Restorative Justice? Sure, it can be as restrictive or open as you like. In the three subjects discussed here, would Jeffrey Snyder ever be a candidate for restoration into society? His case, difficult as it is, should stand as a test. It is required that he be released from prison. The implications of that are: that he can either be homeless, so society will not know where he is; or he must have an address. Can he become productive and support himself, or do the tax payers continue to pay his way in life? If that is the case, why not just keep him in prison? We must, as a society, be able to make tough decisions which will determine what humanity will look like in the next generation.