Some Election Silver Linings For Criminal Justice Reform
November 10, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Despair is a sin. So, for those of us not happy with the results of the presidential election, we should look for at least a few bright spots from Tuesday. Such as the defeat of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Except…if he wants a new job, I hear the post of Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be opening up soon. And that job will probably involve some new responsibilities. Moving on.
Here’s one…California passed Proposition 57, a ballot proposal that relaxes restrictions on parole gives judges (instead of prosecutors) the authority to decide when to try young defendants as juveniles or adults. Proposition 57 adds the following section to the California’s constitution:
SEC. 32. (a) The following provisions are hereby enacted to enhance public safety, improve rehabilitation, and avoid the release of prisoners by federal court order, notwithstanding anything in this article or any other provision of law: (1) Parole Consideration: Any person convicted of a nonviolent felony offense and sentenced to state prison shall be eligible for parole consideration after completing the full term for his or her primary offense. (A) For purposes of this section only, the full term for the primary offense means the longest term of imprisonment imposed by the court for any offense, excluding the imposition of an enhancement, consecutive sentence, or alternative sentence. (2) Credit Earning: The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shall have authority to award credits earned for good behavior and approved rehabilitative or educational achievements. (b) The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shall adopt regulations in furtherance of these provisions, and the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shall certify that these regulations protect and enhance public safety.
Supporters of the bill included Governor Jerry Brown, while the most prominent opponents include various law enforcement organizations and the District Attorney’s association. Supporters of the bill cited the state’s huge prison population, which ultimately led to the Supreme Court affirming a court order that required a mandatory reduction:
Over the last several decades, California’s prison population exploded by 500% and prison spending ballooned to more than $10 billion every year. Meanwhile, too few inmates were rehabilitated and most re‐offended after release.
Overcrowded and unconstitutional conditions led the U.S. Supreme Court to order the state to reduce its prison population. Now, without a common sense, long‐term solution, we will continue to waste billions and risk a court‐ordered release of dangerous prisoners. This is an unacceptable outcome that puts Californians in danger—and this is why we need Prop. 57.
Opponents of the bill responded with measured, reasoned argument:
The authors of Proposition 57 claim it only applies to “non‐violent” crimes, but their poorly drafted measure deems the following crimes “non‐violent” and makes the perpetrators eligible for EARLY PAROLE and RELEASE into local communities: [long list of horrible crimes].
This is the written equivalent of a trick they teach in prosecutor school: that the volume of one’s voice (or in this case, capitalization) can make up for the lack of evidence. They’re quite shameless about this:
Should a criminal who RAPES AN UNCONSCIOUS PERSON be allowed early release from prison? How about a 50‐year old child molester who preys on a child?
Should criminals convicted of HUMAN TRAFFICKING involving sex acts with a child, be allowed back on the streets before serving their full sentence?
Should a criminal who attempts to EXPLODE A BOMB at a hospital, school or place of worship, be allowed to leave prison early? (Emphasis in original.)
The water balloon of the California prison system can only be stuffed so full of water until it pops. Proposition 57 was a long overdue recognition of a very simple principle: if a thing cannot go on forever, it will stop. California had two options: build more prisons or find a way to let some people out. Prop 57 was a way of taking the initiative and ensuring that the State could do so on its own terms, instead of staring down the business end of another court order.
The opponents of the bill didn’t care. All they saw was the prospect of RAPISTS and BOMBERS potentially getting out of jail. So they resorted to crude scare tactics and pounding on the table to convince the voters of California no one should ever be released from prison for any reason, ever.
It’s an ENCOURAGING SIGN that the voters DIDN’T FALL FOR IT. Things are certainly getting better if the electorate doesn’t buy into rhetoric that contains all the nuance and respect for the audience as the average internet comment.
What’s that? Oh…right. NEVER MIND.