Reforming Our Way of Thinking

R. Malik Harris

Governor Jerry Brown is backing an initiative titled “The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016.”. The initiative changes the way juveniles are charged in adult court and will, potentially, have a drastic effect on adult sentencing.

There is a debate about the impact this initiative will actually have if it makes it into the ballot and if it is voted into law in November. What seems certain is that people who were not talking about reforming sentencing policy a few years ago are now talking about it.

The Honorable Thelton Henderson told a room full of incarcerated men at San Quentin in November of 2015 that in his time on the bench this is the first time he has witnessed people from all sides of the aisle discussing prison reform. A lot of people are realizing that the criminal justice system is broken and are coming up with ways to fix it.

Governor Brown is supporting one solution. The California District Attorneys Association opposes the initiative. They argue that there are people in prison who absolutely should not get out any earlier due to overcrowding.

The problem Californians are facing is that since Assembly Bill 109, also known as “Realignment,” the “low hanging fruit” is gone. Left in prison are people with violent, serious or sex charges, “3-Strikers” and so-called “Lifers.” These are the people who are keeping the prisons overpopulated. These are the people who will get out of prison early if there is going to be sentence reform, or if the federal court acts.

While we talk about prison and sentence reform, it would be good for us to recognize that before we can reform anything, we first have to reform the way we think. Nothing good will happen if we talk about reform but continue to think “tough on crime.”


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