Sunday, October 14, 2012

Amend Three Strikes: Yes on 36

If California is not taxing and spending too much, the Golden State is incarcerating too much, with a record number of prisoners housed in crowded circumstances. Federal Courts have poked into this growing problem, demanding that the California Department of Corrections released prisoners.

There is also the realignment, which is forcing state prisoners into county jails, and from country jails to the local prisons, and of course offenders are being released early following the mandates from the federal court of appeals.

A number of issues intersect on the problem of prison crowding and draconian sentencing. How much money does the state of California spend on corrections? How about investing in our business infrastructure our post-secondary institutions?

When I first saw the grandfather of Polly Klaus, the young girl whose brutal murder pushed for the Three Strikes Law, I was surprised to learn that he opposed the strict requirements imposed by the statute. Judges up and down the state have also complained that the law takes away discretion from the courts to mete out just sentencing without considering extenuating circumstances. Some individuals commit terrible crimes as troubled youth. In no way am I suggesting that the state courts should dole out mercy and condolences without regard for proper discipline and punishment, but taking away judicial discretion is cramming our prisons with more low-level offenders without providing them the means to get back on their feet and get back out and serve our communities upon release.
The last jury I sat on, the individual was convicted of resisting arrest, receiving a one-year sentence from the judge. My colleagues and I felt even then that the sentencing was too harsh, yet the deputy district attorney assured us that he would most likely serve only two months before being released. Overcrowding was an issue then – and that was 2005. The prison population has only gotten worse, with budget cuts putting fewer guards and rooms available for corralling the crowds in our correctional system.

Rehabilitation has its place in our criminal justice system, as does a system of restorative justice. Judges in Orange County have implemented Drug and Domestic Violence courts to deal with the fraught issues connected with addiction and family dramas, with noticeable effects. Better to redeem convicts than to relegate them to a bureaucracy of failure and fallout.

On another note, the state locks up too many people. The percentage of inmates who go jail for low-grade drug possession or other non-violent misdemeanors is contributing to the crush of prisoners. It is immoral to lock up someone because of an addition to a controlled substance. If Congressman David Dreier (R-San Dimas) was willing to talk about decriminalizing drug use, then perhaps the voters in this state should consider decriminalizing low-grade drug possession. The Cato Institute published a white paper on the effects of decriminalization in Portugal, and they found that drug use declined, with tourist consumption having no impact on the public arena, a fear which many countries evince when anyone brings up decriminalization. The Netherlands succeeded at making pot 'boring" because it was legal.
Why not end Prohibition on steroids altogether and instill a limited policy of decriminalization and non-enforcement in California?
This line of thinking may seem disparate from Prop 36, yet the two issues connect to the explosion of state prison populations. Amending Three Strikes to lock up only violent offenders after the third felony would help decrease the population, ending the strain on our prison system, while also safeguarding younger felonies from a life of incarceration and criminality.
Let's keep Three Strikes for the worst among us. Vote "Yes!" on Prop 36.

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