ACLU and Religious Groups Bring Constitutional Challenge to CA Governor's "No Parole" Policy

April 18, 2001 12:00 am

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SAN FRANCISCO–Three religious denominations represented by the American Civil Liberties Union affiliates of Northern and Southern California filed a friend-of-the-court brief today in support of a man who is challenging Governor Gray Davis’ decision to deny him parole.

The religious groups, along with Albert M. Leddy, former Chairman of the California Board of Prison Terms, say that Robert Rosenkrantz is a victim of a policy that violates state and federal law. The religious groups include the California Council of Churches, the Board of Rabbis of Northern California, and the California Province of the Society of Jesus. The legal brief was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

“”We urge Governor Davis to reconsider his policy of refusing to release inmates convicted of murder who have been recommended for parole and are not considered a danger to society,”” said Scott Anderson of the California Council of Churches.

“The Governor’s policy robs society of those inmates who are rehabilitated, remorseful and repentant and who want to return as productive members to their communities,”” Anderson said. “”Mr. Rosenkrantz is such a man.””

Rosenkrantz, 33, is considered a model prisoner who has the support of several members of the legislature, the judge who sentenced him, and a member of the victim’s family. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 1985.

Both the Los Angeles Superior Court and the Court of Appeal ruled that the offense was not sufficient to deny him parole, the ACLU noted.

Since his imprisonment, Rosenkrantz has become a computer expert and has received several job offers. He completed therapy and has had a spotless record since he’s been at the state’s medium-security prison in San Luis Obispo.

In April 1999, Davis said of parole to the Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee that “if you take someone else’s life, forget it.”” That same year, the Board of Prison Terms held nearly 2000 parole hearings for those serving life terms, but determined that only 16 were suitable for parole. In every case, Governor Davis reversed or recommended against parole. In 2000, the Board conducted a similar number of hearings, and deemed only 19 lifers suitable for parole. Governor Davis has reversed or recommended against parole in every instance last year except one.

“We are anxious to preserve the integrity of the state parole system,” said Rabbi David Teitelbaum of the Board of Rabbis of Northern California. “The state parole system is based on the principle of human reconciliation and renewal. The Governor’s no parole policy violates this very principle.”

In a letter to Governor Davis last October, Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, urged the Governor to reconsider his no parole policy based on the extensive visits made by Bishops to California’s prisons.

“”The concern that has arisen repeatedly throughout these visits,”” Cardinal Mahony wrote, “”is the policy of your administration to deny parole to inmates with term-to-life sentences against the recommendations of your Parole Board. I would ask you to reconsider your policy that takes away the only real incentive inmates currently have to commit themselves to genuine rehabilitation.”

Will Barnett Fitton, of the law firm Latham & Watkins, which is also representing the religious groups, said that Gov. Davis’ policy is “”clearly unconstitutional and unlawful. The Governor does not consider all of the individual’s characteristics and his likelihood of reform and only looks at the facts of the crime.””

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