Sunday, September 07, 2014

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!!!!


Eric Becker said...

Public Defender Dude, maybe you can help shed some light. Section 18 (the final section) of Prop 47 (now California PC 1170.18) states that it should be, in effect, "liberally construed." Can you explain what that means? My girlfriend is dealing with a 4573.6 case where the underlying cause of the charge is 0.12 grams of methamphetamine (HS 11377 violation out here in the real world so to speak, but still a felony in there apparently.) Wouldn't Section 18 potentially cause Prop 47 to apply to simple possession cases involving 4573.6/4573.8? If not, why not? The best answer I've gotten so far is "because they don't." And apparently not even a guard who's testimony almost conclusively identifies the girl standing between her and the bush as the actual culprit will stand in the way of a district attorney from trying to prosecute a case!

Seems kind of silly on a layman's view. Criminals with drug problems...can't get adequate treatment in prison....can't get away from the drugs because of how much volume comes in (CIW has a bath salts problem now, but that's another story.) Their punishment? More prison time. Seeing that there's all these new misdemeanors that people won't serve prison time on, seems like a good way to ensure the complex lives on by continuously tacking on 2, 3, 4, etc. years onto addicts' sentences with 4573.6/4573.8 charges and keep them in as long as they can.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the gentlemen. I think it is unfair that inmates get more sentencing punishments. They shouldnt be treated differently because they are incarcarated. They need rehabilation for there disease not more incaration which does nothing but cost tax payers more and chances are high that the inmate gets reincarated again because he did not recieve the proper help. Incarated or not there human and should be treated fairly. How could this be changed???

Anonymous said...

Thank you for coming back, ORIGINAL PD DUDE!! I missed you.

I have two kids, have been working at the same place, and have missed the blog. Please post on Prop. 47 now. It passed and it has made a difference.

Signed: The Second PD Dude, Dennis R. Wilkins

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