There is a general fervor occurring across this country; however, it just might be a flash-in-the-pan! The focus is our prison system and how to fix it. Here’s the reality: a broken system that breaks inmates and nothing really gets fixed. Why? Antiquated laws, and extreme sentencing for non-violent crimes is a factor, with an emphasis on drugs per the federal system. According to The Guardian, over 3000 are serving LWOP (life without parole) for non-violent crimes; such as marijuana sales, and possession coupled with a minor shop lifting offense. Imagine that if you are a LWOP inmate!
The ACLU has been a strong advocate bringing awareness to this plight. The image is of Matthew Charles, first released under First Step Act. His crime – selling 216 grams of crack cocaine in 1996 when sentencing was tough on this crime. He received 35 years to life! He became a model inmate, and notoriety on social media prompted action from Hollywood stars to the ACLU that gained his release. Lucky guy! So, what happens to the other 2999 left to rot in Federal prisons –LWOP? How many Hollywood stars will it take, like Kim Kardashian at the White House, to rally their cause?
Back to the premise and fervor of all this new thinking on rehabilitation and release. We’ve had sentencing reform, prison reforms, bail reform – now coming at you with algorithms replacing cash bail in California on the 2020 ballot. Let’s mention Prop. 47, 2014; inmates can petition to have their felonies reduced to misdemeanors, and with Prop 57, 2016; inmates can apply for early released. Are you dizzy yet?
Both of these Propositions were voted ‘in’ by California voters. According to Ken Scheidegger, Criminal Justice Foundation, he said “People got the idea a few years ago that prisons were full of harmless people… a widespread misconception.”
OK Californians, get ready for this one: a bid to toughen California crime laws with a roll back of both Props is going to be on the 2020 ballot. Do tax payers foot the bill for longer incarcerations and vote the roll back, or do we believe in rehabilitation of inmates through lesser sentencing and rehab programs? Both concepts cost the taxpayers, the question is what works and what’s the cost? What a social experiment, huh? It appears Prop 47 and 57 didn’t? Your thoughts.
By Sharla Esparza