Are You Scared Yet? Proposition 47 Anniversary Marked by Fear Mongers

by on November 6, 2015 · 1 comment

in California, Civil Rights, Culture, History, Media

mask scary

And we thought Halloween was over.

By Doug Porter

One year ago this week, California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 47. The measure downgraded many non-violent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors and contained provisions allowing those already incarcerated to petition for release.

Passage of the law marked an important second step (the first being a voter-approved measure in 2012 easing “three-strikes” convictions) in moving the state apparatus away from an incarceration-centric approach to law breakers.

Those with vested interests, both moral and economic, in what I’ll call the prison-industrial complex, remain horrified at the implications of reshaping society’s treatment of bad behaviors. Prior to and since the passage of Proposition 47 law and order types warned of impending doom as evil-doers, freed from the prospect of prison, would spark a crime wave.

Be Very Afraid: PR Campaign Ahead

In the past week, San Diegans have been treated to op-eds from law enforcement figures warning about “the safety and security of our communities” (Sheriff Bill Gore, VOSD) and “our communities at risk of being victimized by repeat offenders” (SDPD Chief Shelly Zimmerman, UT).

To be fair, the UT and VOSD did offer up counterpoints. But these were exceptions to the rule.

These op-eds, which are popping up in newspapers all over the state, come on the heels of a Washington Post article abetted by Zimmerman and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith proclaiming Proposition 47 to be a “get out of jail free card” for criminals and drug addicts.

The Post dredged up some hapless tweaker (meth addict) as the poster child for the story, throwing in a vignette about an agency providing services to the homeless (and presumably recently released felons) in San Diego. In the entire State of California, out of the more than 4000 inmates released from prison since passage of Prop 47, the Post couldn’t find even one person who’d not gone a crime spree.

Cal Watchdog gave us “California Confronts a Prop. 47 Crime Wave, ” republished in Public CEO, cherry-picking a few shocking arrest stats (auto theft up by 47% in San Francisco!) to paint a picture of doom and gloom as yet another pointy-headed liberal idea breaks bad.

It’s worth revisiting the lead paragraphs from the Union-Tribune’s (back in the days of Papa Doug) November 2014 editorial chastising the electorate for their stupidity in approving this measure.

Some_in_law_enforcement_fear_Prop_47_s_p_2212980000_9464708_ver1.0_640_480Prediction: California crime wave coming

Here’s an unfortunate but realistic prediction: Six months from now, a year at most, Californians will look at a troubling new wave of crime and ask, “What happened?” Here’s what happened: Last week’s voter approval of Proposition 47.

This new public policy will be responsible for the early release of thousands of criminals now behind prison bars, including some serving life sentences under the state’s three-strikes law. Thousands more who commit new crimes, and who would have faced prison or jail time before Proposition 47, will now continue to walk the streets.

Has Crime Gone Up?

prop 47Yes and no. There are places in California that have seen an increase in crime during 2015. There are places in California that have seen a decrease in crime during the same time period. There are also increases in crime in other states without something like Prop 47.

Almost all the reporting suggesting increases to Prop 47 end up slipping in the qualifier “it’s too soon to tell.” That is a fact. There is no study anywhere linking the measure to increases in crime.

Here’s a snip of a recent story about San Diego’s stats from KPBS:

There’s a lot of good news in a new crime report compiled by the San Diego Association of Governments.

When it comes to property crimes, residential burglaries were down 11 percent and non-residential burglaries were down 15 percent during the first half of 2015.

But violent crimes were up. “Compared to mid-year 2014, there were a greater number of homicides (39 to 43) and robberies” in 2015, according to the report.

There is evidence that law enforcement officials, offended by the decision of the voters, have worked hard to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

From an op-ed in Fox and Hounds:

cop car prop 47While it didn’t strip away authority to stop low-level offenders, Prop 47 has revealed what has been happening in local criminal justice systems for decades: dysfunctional practices that fail to use law enforcement resources wisely or stop the cycle of crime. If some officials are simply letting people walk for low-level offenses because they don’t like Prop 47, that is their choice, not anything to do with the law. And if the media has no interest in challenging officials’ practices, that’s bad reporting.

Prop. 47, like other measures that upend the status quo and wrest power away from institutional stakeholders, was intensely opposed by some law enforcement. Those opponents have never stopped criticizing the law, but now their failure to use the tools already at their disposal is getting a free ride in the media.

Here’s another snippet from a column in today’s Los Angeles Times, detailing some of the games being played by law enforcement:

Has Proposition 47 increased crime? It’s far too early to tell, but it seems to me there is enough anecdotal evidence to form this hypothesis: There may be a link between the increase in crime and the way law enforcement has chosen to implement Proposition 47. It’s not the ballot measure that’s flawed. It’s the practices, procedures and attitudes, rooted in another era, that may be putting us at risk.

Mistakes Were Made

helpjailOne point raised by all the opponents of Proposition 47 rings true, giving credibility to the rest of their arguments: the measure was an unfunded mandate when it came to providing the support services needed to mitigate incarceration.

The way it was written, Prop 47 assumed that monies saved by not paying $63,000 annually for incarcerating one felon would be diverted to drug rehab and mental health services. Our jails, after all, are the single largest home for the mentally ill nationwide.

Here’s a quote from Mother Jones, in April 2014:

According to a new report from the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC), a nonprofit advocacy organization, the United States has fully returned to the 18th-century model of incarcerating the mentally ill in correctional institutions rather than treating them in health care facilities like any other sick people. In 2012, there were roughly 356,268 inmates with severe mental illnesses in prisons and jails, while only 35,000 people with the same diseases were in state psychiatric hospitals.

The funding problem is two-fold: first, the government needs to incur savings from incarceration costs (can’t spend what you don’t have yet) and then the political will has to exist to make sure the money gets where it’s supposed to go.

It’s wonderful that people are waking up to the fact that authoritarian solutions to social problems don’t work; that the war on drugs is has been a failure. Now we just need to follow through with a commitment (yes, it costs money–in the short run) to provide the care and assistance to make people whole again.


This is an excerpt from Doug Porter’s column at our associated San Diego Free Press.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Bearded OBcean November 6, 2015 at 1:25 pm

So anyone concerned is part of the prison industrial complex? I enjoy it when whatever du jour is attached to “industrial complex.” Talk about scare tactics.


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