Governor Browns Parole Board has freed an astounding 1,963 felons serving “life sentences”

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The Parole Board decision to let a murderer and Manson family member Leslie Van Houten free on parole is yet another reminder why Governor Brown’s proposed initiative, which transfers the power on how much time prisoners must serve from Judges to the Parole Board, must be defeated.

For those who need reminding, Van Houten’s crime was particularly vicious. She and five fellow Manson family members broke into the house of Rosemary and Leno LaBianca, rousted them from their sleep, and then brutally killed them. For her part, Van Houten held down Rosemary LaBianca as “Tex” Watson stabbed Leno, with Van Houten then stabbing Rosemary 14 times.

The Parole Board’s decision to release Van Houten is typical of many horrible decisions they have made the past few years. These include recommending release of cop killer Jesus Cecena, who killed San Diego Police Officer Archie Buggs with an execution shot to the head as Buggs lay wounded; double murderer Joseph Sheltonwho kidnapped college students Kevin Thorpe and Laura Craig, chaining Kevin to a tree before killing him the next day and raping Laura for five days before killing her; or Jose Gonzalez, who brutally beat James and Essie Effron to death with a lead pipe inside their San Diego clothing store. In each case, Governor Brown had to step in and reverse the Parole Board decision.

There isn’t enough room to go through chapter and verse of recent questionable parole decisions. Even Governor Brown has been forced to reverse a few of these grants, but the fact is there has been a tsunami of releases of “lifers” since his 2010 election as Governor. In the past six years, his Parole Board has freed an astounding 1,963 felonsserving “life sentences” for murder, robbery, and other violent crimes. That is more than the four Governors combined before Governor Brown!

How did these lifers do when released? Well, as the Los Angeles Times wrote in their story about the 1,963 releases: “With the dramatic rise in parole, The Times also found a disturbing increase in revocations.” Yes, the very inmates the Parole Board concluded should be freed from their life sentences and released on society returned to a life of crime, including drug use, domestic violence, theft, even attempted murder.

The Parole Board decision to free Van Houten dovetails with one of Governor Brown’s stated reasons for his initiative: that an inmate should be released early if they make efforts to “rehabilitate,” or participate in prison education programs. In the Van Houten case, this mantra became the basis of her release. Although denied parole in 2013 and not set for another hearing until 2018, Van Houten received an early hearing because she told the Parole Board she had taken “self-help programs, classes and counseling” in the past three years to address the “lack of insight.” Yes, it only took 42 years — and just like that, parole was granted-a chilling precursor of the early wholesale releases to come if the Governor’s initiative is enacted.

As I detailed in my last blog, “Governor Brown’s Prisoner Release Initiative is a Bad Idea“, Governor Brown has justified the mass releases of lifers as consistent with his personal belief in redemption. He has also claimed that another reason for his initiative is his desire his personal belief a determinate sentencing law is a mistake. Sorry, Governor, but as we suffer the rising crime rate ushered in by Prop 47 , the last thing California citizens need is to be the prey of criminals released early from prison to satisfy your personal beliefs about crime and punishment.

George Hofstetter is President of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. ghofstetter.
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