As a Superior Court judge for nearly a decade, I got a close look at a justice system that was failing too many people. I am supporting Proposition 57 because I believe it would begin to address that failure.
Beginning in the 1990s, California spent years incarcerating more and more people at an ever greater cost to taxpayers and society – with little but sky-high recidivism to show for it. As a result, our state prisons are dangerously overcrowded, and their administration is being overseen by the federal government. It has mandated that California get its prison problem under control or risk having a solution imposed by federal officials.
That’s why a coalition of law enforcement leaders, victims’ rights groups and Gov. Jerry Brown have crafted Proposition 57 to offer a long-term fix to our recent prison problems, and a more common-sense approach to public safety.
If passed by voters, Proposition 57 would keep public safety decisions in the hands of California law enforcement professionals and would avoid the possibility of mandatory prison release orders from federal officials.
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It would also give judges more say in which youth offenders should be tried as adults, and create incentives for prisoners to learn basic skills while they are locked up. This would ease their transition back into society and reduce our high rates of recidivism, saving taxpayers money and keeping our communities safer.
This course correction is long overdue. Over the last 38 years, California’s prison population has grown from 22,000 to 176,000. Taxpayers have built 23 new prisons, and our annual prison spending has ballooned to more than $10 billion a year.
Proposition 57 takes a fundamentally different approach to law and order, and emphasizes working with nonviolent offenders to give them the skills they’ll need to be productive citizens, while keeping the most dangerous offenders behind bars. Ultimately, the state parole board would review every inmate’s case to determine whether certain nonviolent offenders are ready for a second chance.
The measure would create incentives for inmates to prepare themselves for life on the outside, offering credits for those who undertake educational or vocational training. These programs also put inmates in touch with people on the outside who can help them find a job or receive additional training. Without that support network, many fall back into bad habits and wind up back in the criminal justice system.
Californians have an opportunity to take a new approach to criminal justice that would keep our communities safe, and offer a second chance to thousands of nonviolent offenders. We can bring more common sense to our criminal justice system, and take control of our prisons back from federal masters.
Jan Levine was a Los Angeles Superior Court judge from 2003 to 2013 and wrote this viewpoint on behalf of the Yes on Proposition 57 campaign. She can be contacted at Info@SafetyAndRehabilitation.com.