JUST SAYIN’-I have written a number of articles this year on prison-related issues. This particular column, however, is devoted to a very crucial proposition that will help ameliorate some of the ills in the system. Those abuses are in need of our immediate attention and, thus, our support for this initiative.
Proposition 47 (otherwise known as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act of 2014), has received wide and broad support throughout the State. PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing), the national non-profit organization based in Sacramento but with branches throughout the state (including Los Angeles), is a major supporter. It is the umbrella for over 400 religious, educational, and neighborhood institutions representing over 450,000 families.
In addition, there are countless others which are giving their strong support and endorsements. Some of those include the following: law enforcement, teachers, rehabilitation experts, business and faith-based leaders, civil rights organizations, along with a great many of our lawmakers and political organizations.
Why so much support? In part, this is response to the suffering, distress, and frustration among inmates (many of whom recently went on a hunger strike to draw attention to their very genuine and often-heart-breaking conditions)--fights break out, people commit suicide (in greater numbers than we know about), severe depression is diagnosed all too frequently. If redress is not employed soon, this volatile situation will erupt--making accommodations ever more difficult.
The U. S. Supreme Court stepped in in 2011, seeing the matter as violating “the Constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.” Thus, it demanded that the perverse overcrowding issues be rectified immediately (but ultimate deadlines have been postponed as a result of Gov. Brown’s repeated pleadings yet, at the same time, changes are being made, though at a somewhat snail-like pace).
What has already happened is the prison populations in many California State prisons have been shifted to County jails—a process called realignment (a “fix” that only adds to the population burden locally). Many for-profit private prisons have been built, often employing guards who are ill-prepared to handle inmate issues.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon has recognized the magnitude of these problems and others that contribute to them. Hence, he sponsored the Proposition 47 initiative. If passed, this new law will take effect on November 5, 2014, and will apply in the following ways:
- Very importantly, it will make certain that no one convicted of murder, rape, child molestation, and other heinous crimes will in any way be a beneficiary of this law.
- Persons convicted and sentenced for low-level felonies will likely (see #3 below) have their terms reclassified as misdemeanors. Many are in prison as a result of wobbler crimes (when prosecutors have the discretion to charge a defendant either for a felony or a misdemeanor—thus many sentences have been based on subjective rather than objective determiners).
The proposition would cover such crimes as thefts of less than $950 in value (including writing bad checks), receiving stolen property equal to that value, and possessing and consuming banned drugs meant for personal use only (such as marijuana, which is now legal for medicinal purposes).
It is also a women’s issue because 40% of the women found in our jail system now were sent there for relatively minor crimes, like stealing diapers, food, milk, and clothing for their children.
- Vetting prisoners to make certain they fit the guidelines before reclassification takes place.
- Allowing the newly freed misdemeanor convicts to be able to vote and to receive food and housing assistance until they can get back on their feet, and so forth.
- Create a Safe Neighborhoods and School Fund from the savings derived from not having to house such prisoners for long periods of time. It is anticipated that the State will save approximately $150 to 250 million dollars per year. The savings would be distributed in the following way: 25% to the California Department of Education; 10% to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board, 65% to the Board of State and Community Correction. In essence, much of this money will be reallocated to K-12 schools, mental health and drug treatment programs, and support to crime victims.
- At least 10,000 prisoners will be affected and have a positive impact on at least 40,000 community members.
- So many of those incarcerated under the present system come from impoverished and under-served communities and, as a consequence, “thousands of working-age men and women [are living] lives that are forever [negatively] affected by mass incarceration.”
Through this bill, ex-convicts, having once served time for misdemeanors, will more easily be able to find jobs and thus help expand our currently (though slowly) growing economy. Thus, if the proposition is approved, those affected will be able to support their families, and their children will be able to finish public school and have the opportunity to go beyond to a higher education (as will the parent who had been an inmate). Many of these formerly incarcerated will have learned (in prison) parenting and other skills which will help them be successful in their pursuits and behavior. It has been proven that such treatment can reduce the rate of recidivism.
- Public Safety will similarly see great improvements and crime rates will be lower when such prisoners are released into the community. Additional money allocations for law enforcement will allow our officers to concentrate on “violent and serious crimes, and savings will be directed to programs that stop the cycle of crime.” Keep in mind, “prisoners (will) only be released if they demonstrate that they are no long a threat to public safety.” (See #1 and 3 above.)
Passing this proposition will certainly not solve all the problems, but, unquestionably, it will make a positive difference that we all can feel—inside and outside the prison. I ask for a Yes vote on Proposition 47.
I leave you also with the following from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young:
Teach your children well, their father’s hell did go by.
And feed them on your dreams …
Teach your parents well, their children’s hell will slowly go by.
And feed them on your dreams …
Something to think about.
For more information:
- PICO: 916-447-7959 or 510-649-1444
- Proposition 47 - Legislative Analyst's Office: www.lao.ca.gov/ [[hotlink]]
- League of Women Voters of California: Toll-free (888) 870-VOTE (8683) or (916) 442-7215
- Californians for Safe Schools and Neighborhoods: (510) 550-5486.
(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Alliance. Jenkins has written Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts. She also writes for CityWatch.)
Vol 12 Issue 77
Pub: Sep 23, 2014