Prop 36 - drugs and 3 strikes
I've written before on the fact that I consider propositions to be the scourge of California politics. I still consider them to be so.
In general, I think propositions are WAY overused in California, and they've actually replaced effective governing instead by just going directly to a bunch of uninformed or misinformed voters with a fancily drawn title and promises to make the world a better place with one yes vote. Voters in general tend to be pretty low information, it's bad enough when they vote for politicians they like or don't like based on 30 second ads, but at least those politicians have to actually report back to the voters with the things they've done every few years, but a proposition is a single vote that locks something into law forever without an ability to change it (most propositions are written in a way that require super-super majorities to make even the most minor changes.
I know there's no way to legislate this, but I believe that propositions should only exist in situations where there's a broad consensus to make the change throughout society but politicians otherwise refuse to deal with. Those areas are pitifully few - Medical Marijuana comes to mind, Prop 13 and Prop 187 (respectively - the property tax initiative of 1978 and the illegal immigration initiative of 1994 which was largely ruled unconstitutional) possibly as well - even though I disagree vehemently with the last 2.
What's interesting is how there have been 2 propositions in the last generation which have gone far to reduce penalties for crime (I guess Medical Marijuana could be a 3rd), and both of them are Prop 36. In 2000, Prop 36 passed making drug treatment mandatory for certain drug offenders. Mind you, the police still arrest people like crazy for drugs, prosecutors frequently over-charge sales cases to avoid the drug treatment regime, and plenty of people are still in prison for drugs, but the numbers have gone down dramatically over the last 14 years. And crime has coincidentally (or not?) gone down as well.
The recent Prop 36 of 2012 codified the general practice of former LA District Attorney Steve Cooley, a Republican who also did not favor the abusive incarceration of low-level offenders for life under 3 strikes like his ostensibly liberal Democratic predecessor Gil Garcetti did. When Cooley came into office, he adopted a policy which mandated "2nd strike" sentences (or double the typical punishment but not life sentences) for most non-serious/non-violent 3rd strikers. The effect of Cooley's policy was incredible. Pre Cooley, LA filled the state prisons at an incredible rate with non-serious/non-violent offenders. Since Cooley, those people received hefty prison sentences, but not life sentences. Again, coincidentally (or not), crime continued to plummet in Los Angeles.
The final thing to say about Prop 36, it was mostly retroactive. This means that most inmates serving life sentences for non-serious/non-violent offenses (i.e. - huge numbers of people in LA from the Garcetti era) could petition the Court for re-sentencing as "2nd strikers," meaning they got much shorter sentences and their life sentences were vacated. It will probably shock no one that that the LA DA's office has fought most of those petitioners (there are over 1,000 from LA County alone). Despite this, many have been released, this because they overwhelmingly came from the Garcetti era and hence had more than a decade of credit for time served, so their 2nd strike sentences meant immediate release (anyone surprised that the DA's office can agree with a certain policy, but just can't quite stomach the notion of actually letting people out of prison?).
And wouldn't you know it, the recidivism rate of these 40/50/60 year olds (and older) is VERY low! Just like people argued when 3 strikes was passed back in 1994 - you imprison low-level offenders for life then you're really imprisoning many way beyond their crime years, and end up running an old-folks home for has-been criminals. And the people who argued that were mostly right.
But it is fascinating that after all these anti-crime initiatives that have helped balloon California's prison population to the largest in the country and led to higher spending on prisons than Universities in California, we finally pass 2 common-sense ones here that have paid major dividends in the state, and both are called Prop 36! Who would've known?
Of course, Californian's have a chance to go with another common-sense de-ratcheting of crime initiative this fall - Prop 47, which would reduce all drug possession crimes to misdemeanors. With the money saved going in large parts to our state's schools. You'll never guess who's against it - that's right, the regular cast of characters who's livelihood depends on the criminal industrial complex.
Who cares? Go Prop 47!!!!