By Doug Porter
Prop 57 is the final part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s mea culpa for the tough on crime laws passed during his first term. As a result, the state prisons were filled to overflowing. Lawsuits and investigative reporting exposed the cruel and inhumane process amounting to little more than warehousing.
The Supreme Court agreed, saying conditions were so bad they violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual treatment. In 2011, California was ordered to reduce its population by more than 30,000 inmates.
California’s penal system became larger than its colleges, and, in fact, functioned as a crime training facility for a lost generation of the economically dispossessed, most of whom were people of color. And, let’s face it, a major legacy of that era’s thinking was the use of the penal system as a means of social control for people of the non-white persuasion.
In 1970, corrections received just 3.7% of the state’s general fund revenue, while UC and the California State University systems together received nearly 14%. Today, corrections account for almost 9% of California general funds, while UC and the California State University system receive 5.2%.
In 2014, the California Budget Project determined the state was spending $62,300 a year per inmate in prison versus $9,100 per year per student in public K-12 schools.
The prison-industrial complex arose as a force in state politics. Full jails were/are good for business, good for certain unions, and good for the politicians who argued to “lock ‘em up and throw the key away.”
The legislature certainly wasn’t going to pass reform. It was political suicide for most Assembly and Senate members to be seen as advocating for changes.
In the end, it was a ballot measure passed by California voters in 2014 that eased crowding below the threshold set by federal courts in 2009. Proposition 47 led to nine straight months of decreases in the state’s prison population and 7,700 fewer inmates in the system.
Now Gov. Brown wants to finish the deal. His campaign war chest via the Ballot Measure Committee has coughed up a $4.1 million dollars in support of Prop 57, along with major support from the California Democratic Party and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.
The Governor says Prop 57 was designed to remove some of the harmful side effects of legislative initiatives from his first term mandating fixed penalties for many serious crimes and felonies, along with removing the option of parole for inmates convicted of such crimes.
“One of the key unintended consequences was the removal of incentives for inmates to improve themselves, to refrain from gang activity, using narcotics, otherwise misbehaving. Nothing that would give them the reward of turning their life around.”
About 7,500 non-violent prisoners would be eligible for early release under Prop 57. The state parole board, according to proponents, would actually release only about 750 inmates who have worked to rehabilitate themselves and exhibited good behavior. The thinking is this could motivate other inmates to take advantage of rehab opportunities.
Mayor Faulconer Holds (Another) Press Conference
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is the most high profile politician against the measure. District Attorneys, County Sheriffs, and Police Chiefs round out the list of opponents. They have yet to put their money where their mouths are, with the opposition campaign raising just $252,131.70 as of October 1.
Faulconer announced his opposition at a mid-July press conference. From the Union-Tribune:
“Our neighborhoods don’t deserve a grand experiment that puts public safety and innocent citizens at risk,” Faulconer said. “Finding ways to reduce our prison population and encourage convicts to become productive members of society is something that we all believe is important, but it has to be done in a way that does not make us less safe as a society.”
As is usually true with members of his political class, Faulconer offered up no specifics for alternatives. And we know his party would never, ever, support any additional funding or (God forbid) taxes for any program other than continued incarceration.
It appears that most of the money spent both for and against Prop 57 occurred during the signature gathering phase.
The California District Attorneys Association filed a lawsuit seeking to block circulation of the petitions, saying last-minute amendments made it substantially different than the original filing with the attorney general.
The DA’s won, lost on appeal, and lost at the California Supreme Court. Now their best tool against Prop 57 are the opposition ballot arguments, which all but promise rapists, hospital bombers (really!), and sex traffickers will be roaming the streets should this measure pass.
These arguments are based on a critique saying the measure is too loosely written, lacking enough specifics on exactly which crimes might qualify.
Proponents say such decisions can and will be made when regulations are written to implement the law.
Two other arguments against Prop 57 have popped up along with the way, namely that since Prop 47 passed, crime has ticked up and the savings promised haven’t materialized. Both of these things are true. Neither of them are substanative arguments against sentencing reform.
For More Information
Ballot Language: CRIMINAL SENTENCES. PAROLE. JUVENILE CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS AND SENTENCING. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AND STATUTE.
Allows parole consideration for nonviolent felons. Authorizes sentence credits for rehabilitation, good behavior, and education. Provides juvenile court judge decides whether juvenile will be prosecuted as adult. Fiscal Impact: Net state savings likely in the tens of millions of dollars annually, depending on implementation. Net county costs of likely a few million dollars annually.
A YES vote would: Allow certain state prison inmates convicted of nonviolent felony offenses would be considered for release earlier than otherwise. The state prison system could award additional sentencing credits to inmates for good behavior and approved rehabilitative or educational achievements. Youths must have a hearing in juvenile court before they could be transferred to adult court.
A NO vote would: Keep things the way they are.
Most Recent Polling: A Field Poll released on September 27 says 60% of likely voters favor Prop 57, with 21% opposed and 19% undecided.
For information on the November 2016 General Election, see our San Diego 2016 Progressive Voter Guide
Other San Diego Free Press coverage of the 2016 general election.
Tomorrow: Prop 58 (Bi-Lingual Education) We’ll be writing about various state and local contests Monday-Friday for the next two weeks.
Key Dates for the November 8, 2016 General Election –> pic.twitter.com/uEQEgPKHRk
— CA SOS Vote (@CASOSvote) September 12, 2016
On This Day: 1932 –The state militia is called in after 164 high school students in Kincaid, Ill., go on strike when the school board buys coal from the scab Peabody Coal Co. 1945 – Elvis Presley appeared in a talent show at the age of 10. It was his first public appearance. He won 2nd place and $5. 1974 – Frank Robinson took over the management position of the Cleveland Indians baseball team. He was the first black manager in major league baseball.
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