Amidst California’s Obama-hangover and continued unrest over the passage of Proposition 8, it’s still worth noting public reaction to the various ballot propositions on the criminal justice system. I posted on the crisis in CA’s budget and prison system in July; since then, the situation has become measurably worse (did you hear about our plea to the feds for a paltry few billion last month?). I wondered then whether the budget crisis and credit crunch would bring about a change in public exuberance for ever tougher and longer sentences.
The answer is… sort of and it depends on how the question is framed.
On Nov. 4, 54% of Californians voted to lengthen the time between parole hearings (from 5 to 15 years in many cases), 60% of Californians voted against expanding drug treatment and limiting incarceration for some drug offenders, and 70% of Californians voted against increasing spending (by an estimated 365 million) on police and law enforcement.
If you are a Californian and concerned about the financial crisis, which sounds better?
Proposition 9 included elements of both but was consistently referred to as the ‘victim’s rights’ proposition. I’m not surprised it passed, only that it passed by such a small margin.
Contrast this with Propostion 5, which allocates 460m annually to improve and expand drug treatment programs, limits court authority to incarcerated certain drug offenders, and substantially shortens parole. The fiscal impact was estimated to include a large initial outlay and then savings from incarceration were expected to offset costs. Prop 5 got little public attention, no ads that I heard, and included the word “rehabilitation” in the title and ‘improve’ and ‘offender’ in the text. The amount of spending was named but voters had to do quite a bit of research to find that it may have saved money in the long run. No surprise that voters rejected it.
Shall $460,000,000 be allocated annually to improve and expand treatment programs?
Proposition 6 was also assured of rejection by voters.
Shall of minimum of $965,000,000 of state funding be required each year for police and local law enforcement?
Does the rejection of 5 and 6 indicate a change in public feeling toward punishment? Maybe so or maybe not but I suspect it reflects the financial crisis more than anything else. Prop 9, though it passed, is the best indicator of a change in sentiment. Past propositions framed as victim bills or those that lengthen sentences have passed by much larger margins than Prop 9.
Then again, it could have been that voters remembered passing a similar resolution 26 years ago and surmised that the victim portion of the prop was already being enforced in California.