As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Judge Invalidates Part of Prop. 9 - Victory For Prison Reformers

Once again, a judge has invalidated parts of a "tough on crime" ballot initiative. Earlier it was Jessica's Law, Prop. 83, which was ruled partially unconstitutional. Now Prop. 9, passed last year, has been found to have illegal provisions.

A key part of a victims' rights measure voters approved in November was blocked Thursday by a federal judge, who ruled that the state cannot restrict parole violators' right to state-provided legal counsel when considering whether to send them back to prison.

Senior Judge Lawrence K. Karlton of the U.S. District Court in Sacramento ruled against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state in issuing an injunction against part of Proposition 9, the measure known as the Victims' Bill of Rights Act of 2008: Marsy's Law.

The initiative dictates that the state provide legal counsel to parole violators only under certain circumstances, including when the case is unusually complex or when the parolee is indigent or has issues of mental competency.

The SacBee has more. I don't know how this could ever have even reached the ballot in the first place. And this is part of our insane parole policy, which even before this law was failing the state. 67% of all inmates sent to prison in 2007 were parole violators, often for technical violations. As I wrote then:

It is a financial and moral disaster that we are throwing men and women back in jail for parole violations at such an accelerated rate, far beyond any other state in the country. This is clearly a factor of the state's parole policy, which is too constrictive and too quick to return people to prison. It surely leads to the high recidivism rate for those who commit crimes multiple times - if they feel they can't escape the system once they're in it, they simply have no incentive to rehabilitate themselves [...]

We are diseased by the prison-industrial complex. Prison construction is good for the CCPOA and supposedly good for the economy but it's based on a flawed notion that all construction spending is valuable. In fact, prison construction, especially of the type so needless that bringing parole policy in line with the other 49 states in the union would practically eliminate the overcrowding crisis and rendering the need for more beds moot, crowds out other, more valuable building projects that have a tangible value to people's lives. We are violating the human rights of inmates and the Constitutional provision against cruel and unusual punishment, as well as stifling innovative public investment, because the parole officers have a powerful lobby and the Tough on Crime dementia has infested the minds of practically every legislator in the state for 30 years.

At the national level, we are finally seeing the seeds of a robust prison reform movement. Jim Webb and Arlen Specter have submitted a bill to completely overhaul the criminal justice system. The bill would commission a panel to review incarceration rates, sentencing policies, gang violence, prison administration and reintegration of offenders. This sounds like a small step, but considering that absolutely nothing has been done to stop the train of "tough on crime" insanity from rolling down the track in decades, it's significant. A copy of the legislation is here. Sen. Webb remarked:

"America's criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace," said Senator Webb. "With five percent of the world's population, our country houses twenty-five percent of the world's prison population. Incarcerated drug offenders have soared 1200% since 1980. And four times as many mentally ill people are in prisons than in mental health hospitals. We should be devoting precious law enforcement capabilities toward making our communities safer. Our neighborhoods are at risk from gang violence, including transnational gang violence [...]

"We are not protecting our citizens from the increasing danger of criminals who perpetrate violence and intimidation as a way of life, and we are locking up too many people who do not belong in jail," concluded Webb. "I believe that American ingenuity can discover better ways to deal with the problems of drugs and nonviolent criminal behavior while still minimizing violent crime and large-scale gang activity.

The bill has 14 co-sponsors, neither or whom are named Boxer or Feinstein. Tell them they should know better, with the prison crisis consuming more and more of the state budget and destroying the lives of nonviolent offenders.

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