Students, Community Members Criticize City Council's Opposition to Prop 57 Parole Reform

Zoe Flavin PO '17 takes notes at a Nov. 1 Young Progressives Demanding Action meeting in response to Claremont City Council formally opposing Prop 57. (Liam Brooks • The Student Life)“I was kind of in disbelief when I was watching them talk about it,” said Jessica Chairez, a community fellow with the Pitzer Community Engagement Center and member of Claremont for Prop 57, after attending the Claremont City Council meeting on Oct 25, during which the Council unanimously adopted a resolution formally opposing Proposition 57.

Proposed by California Governor Jerry Brown and titled “the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016,” Proposition 57 aims to change the state’s parole system by expanding parole and good behavior credits for “non-violent” offenders. It is viewed by supporters as an attempt to mitigate the overcrowding that riddles California prisons, while detractors have argued that it would lead to the early release of "dangerous criminals."

Calif. Representative Loretta Sanchez, who is endorsed by the Mayor, and police chiefs across California have also come out in opposition to Prop 57. 

Claremont for Prop 57, composed of staff at the Pitzer Community Engagement Center and students at Pitzer College, Scripps College, Claremont McKenna College, and Pomona College, is organizing against the Claremont City Council’s Oct. 25 decision.  Phone banking, emailing, and petitioning the City Council, members of Claremont for Prop 57 “demand that the council rescind adoption of the resolution and take further steps to ensure the greater community is represented in the future," according to their Change.org petition.

At the time of publication, the petition, supported by several Claremont community organizations, including the Democratic Club of Claremont, Pitzer College Community Engagement Center, Young Progressives Demanding Action, Pitzer College Student Choices Student Voices, Inland Congregations United for Change, League of Women Voters Claremont, Claremont Progressives, and Prison Abolition Clubs, had garnered 205 signatures.

The petition reads: "Given the lack of representation of community members in favor of Proposition 57, to suggest that Prop 57 would compromise the safety of Claremont residents is undemocratic. Furthermore, the timing of this resolution, which is exactly two weeks before the General Election, calls to question the intent of the Chief of Police and the council as a whole as an unrepresentative political body.”

Chairez, who works with incarcerated women and youth, said, "I don’t think that it’s right for the city to make a stance, representing the entire community—one way or the other, despite what they believe."

The Claremont City Council believe that their decision was made democratically, however. 

Ian Schiffer PO '17, a member of Claremont for Prop 57, wrote in an email to TSL that he was told by Claremont mayor Sam Pedroza that the Council took the decision seriously, placing the topic on the Council's agenda so that community members could comment on it.

On the other hand, Chairez, who was present at the city council meeting, said that this doesn’t match the description of what happened at the meeting.

“When I saw that after [Pedroza] had given his statement nobody else gave an opposing opinion, I was a little bit confused as to why he made such a strong statement. He made a statement in such a way [to suggest] that there was a strong movement in favor of it. But that didn’t really seem to be happening," Chairez said.

Charlotte Hughes PZ’18, a member of Claremont for Prop 57 said that "it's disappointing that the council has put out this statement that obviously no one’s been asked [about]."

According to Caroline Bourscheid PZ '16, a Community Fellow at the Pitzer Community Engagement Center, the Council failed to mention the alleged connection between Proposition 47, a ballot initiative passed in November 2014 that changed sentencing for drug and property crimes, and the recent increase in crime in Calif.

"Essentially, the Claremont City Council is arguing, 'Well, Prop 47 increased burglaries in homes in the Claremont community, and we don’t want to support Prop 57 because of that.’ But nothing in the resolution evidenced that," Bourscheid said. "They didn’t have any stats. There was nothing about how many crimes have been committed since Prop 47 and what the correlation between those crimes and Prop 47."