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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | Santa Cruz Indymedia | Government & Elections | Police State and Prisons
Proposition 57: A Vote For Justice
Prop 57 Next Logical Step Toward Model of Restorative Justice
In past articles, I have addressed what I believe to be the sound public policy that is reflected in Proposition 47. I continue to believe that this eminently reasonable revision to our system of criminal justice effectively addresses an antiquated policy of harsher penalties that is neither practical nor socially meaningful and I remain optimistic that the modest reforms embodied in Prop 47 offer substantial first steps toward workable models of restorative justice.
For decades, the policies underlying the criminal justice system in California have undergone mind numbing and common sense defying pendulum swings between the need for incarceration and the desire for rehabilitation. The only consistent consideration has been the protection of victims’ right and that is as it should be. But our steadfast determination to impose consequences on those accused of criminal behavior has rendered us singularly unable as a society to understand and address the causes of that behavior. The pursuit of this policy has not resulted in either an increase in public safety or a decrease in the crime rate. Indeed, the only real and statistically verifiable result of this policy has been been a geometric increase in our prison population which has fueled a runaway and tax payer supported increase in "brick and mortar" prison expansion. California's prison population is expected to continue to grow to the point where the federal courts may, as they did in 2011, compel the state to release thousands of prisoners without the procedural protections and safeguards included in Prop 57. So let's look at some of the reasons why Prop 57, in my view, is both sound public and criminal justice policy.
First, it is important to keep in mind that the overall rise in crime rate observed in 2015 is only statistically relevant when compared to the crime rate in 2014, when crime levels actually reached record lows not seen in California for violent crime and property crimes since 1976. This is an important consideration in the broader view about crime, public safety and what actually makes us safer.
Second, public safety is not served by releasing inmates who haven’t received the benefit of rehabilitative programs and training. It can scarcely be argued that preparing exiting prisoners to succeed rather than to fail tenders a benefit to our society as a whole and to the prisoners themselves. Prisoners benefit by participating in programs meant to increase their prospects of successfully reintegrating into society. It benefits society as a whole by breaking the cycle of recidivism that is at the core of prison overcrowding and rising crime rates.
Third, Prop. 57 is certainly not the complete solution to our problems, but it is a step in the right direction. We can and should enable our state to avoid federal court-ordered releases as we continue to seek the right balance between incarceration, rehabilitation and crime prevention. Prop. 57 makes those convicted of nonviolent felonies eligible for parole earlier than they otherwise would be, on average after serving one and a half years rather than the current average of two years. Those convicted of violent felonies are not affected. Parole boards, which consider a litany of factors on a case-by-case basis before submitting their recommendation to the governor, offer an exponentially better option for regulated and controlled prisoner release when compared to the prospect of court-ordered mass release.
As concerned citizens, we must continue to support public policies which move us away from arrest and incarceration and toward rehabilitation, support and successfully reentry into society. I support Proposition 57 because I believe it is the next logical step along the path of this much need and long hoped for change in criminal justice policy. Governor Jerry Brown sees Prop. 57 as a responsible way of not only avoiding mass releases, but encouraging those in prison to better themselves by participating in evidence-based rehabilitative programs.