‘The Proposition 47 victory is a repudiation of four
decades of tough-on-crime policies, and marks the end of the era of politics of fear’
California voters clearly want an end to excessive prison sentences and the “politics of fear,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California concludes with the overwhelming approval of Proposition 47.
“The Proposition 47 victory is a repudiation of four decades of tough-on-crime policies, and marks the end of the era of politics of fear,” the ACLU’s Allen Hopper said in a Nov. 7 news release.
Nearly 60 percent voted in favor of the change, sending “a loud message” to Sacramento, Hopper commented. “The question is whether our political leaders in Sacramento are listening.”
“Voters want smart criminal justice strategies and recognize that longer sentences, especially for low-level, nonviolent crimes, have not made our communities safer,” wrote Hopper, director of criminal justice and drug policy for the ACLU of California.
“California’s recidivism rate, one of the highest in the country, is perhaps the best indicator of the degree to which the state’s harsh sentencing laws have utterly failed to keep any of us safe over the past 40 years of prison and jail expansion, constantly ratcheted-up punishment and the abandonment of even a pretense of rehabilitation as a component of criminal justice,” he wrote.
Hopper noted the Legislature failed to act and “for far too long, the politics of fear and the power of the law enforcement lobby have dominated Sacramento.”
“Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) tried twice…to pass bills similar to, though much more moderate than, Proposition 47. (He) was unable to get a bill reducing the penalty for simple possession of drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor out of his own chamber, due to the opposition of the statewide associations of sheriffs, police chiefs and district attorneys”, Hopper wrote.
Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a compromise bill that would have made similar changes. Proposition 47 was an initiative designed to do the same thing — reclassify many minor crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
“Lawmakers must abide by the will of the people…The Legislature and the governor should work together to ensure Proposition 47 is implemented in an honest, timely manner, and should rebuff any law enforcement attempts to divert the money earmarked for rehabilitation and treatment to still more jail construction,” said Hopper.
The state’s sentencing scheme needs re-evaluation, the ACLU report said. “It’s time for a comprehensive review of our penal code and sentencing laws, starting with the intricate web of sentencing enhancements that the Little Hoover Commission investigated in 2007 and declared ‘complex and confusing,’ with over 100 enhancements strewn throughout more than 20 separate statutes,” cited Hopper.
“Perhaps it’s time for a sentencing commission…not controlled by the same law enforcement interests that have stymied reform for decades,” Hopper commented.
“It’s time for a serious look at sentencing laws in California with an eye toward real reform and the same investment in innovation that drives our technology sector. And it is time to end, once and for all, the era of the politics of fear,” he added.