The way that a society treats its criminals is indicative of the moral character and worthiness of that society. While it is easy for us to ignore and disregard the criminals amongst us by leading them to prison and throwing away the key, an important lesson is lost in this disregard for the human experience. In California the intolerance of violent crime and action has led to the development of the Three Strikes Law, which was implemented in 1994. As a policy maker I am firmly opposed to this law as I find it to be inhumane, impractical, excessively expensive and carried out in poor taste with a snobbish attitude towards those of us who have temporarily lost our way. A new policy is needed that can help address the important facts and details particular to the State of California and its unique needs.
Prisoners are Humans
The victims of violent crimes are special people who have experienced trauma at a very intense level. Retaliation and revenge are expected, yet animalistic responses to such brutal savagery and it appears little is gained through this system generally speaking. The tendency to imprison people has become a serious problem and these problems resonate throughout society in many different ways. To fix this prison system it is essential that we take on a more reasonable, understandable and economic process that addresses what the true root causes of crime and punishment exhibit in a modern day society.
To fix this policy it is important to begin treating prisoners as human beings and not animals. Society has created an artificial scarcity of resources that relegates humans to the lowest common denominator too often as the poorest people in California look to sub-human ways to survive and negotiate their lives. What is needed is respect for the common man and his problems. Have we not all been criminals at one time? Are we throwing stones at glass houses as we reside in the largest glass palaces that humanity has every created?
Overpopulation of our prisons and our knee-jerk reaction to incarcerate instead of appreciate and assist people, is a spiritual and social problem that needs to be addressed within at the internal level. A more evolved and smoother system is needed now and there is no reason that a newly created policy on the state of California's prison system can be successfully implemented in attempt to heal our collective population and present a more human front to the world regardless of past transgressions and mistakes.
The California Prison System
Before continuing it must be mentioned that California state Three Strikes Law was amended in 2012 with an overwhelming amount of voters supporting a reexamination and reinterpretation of the law. Prop 36 will be addressed later in this policy, however it is important to understand and realize the conditions of the criminal justice system, and specifically, the court and prison system to illuminate the genesis of why the Three Strikes Law was implemented in the first place.
According to the VERA Institute of Justice (2012), "In Fiscal year 2010, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) had $7 billion in prison expenditures. However, the state also had $969.7 million in prison-related costs outside the department's budget. The total cost of California's prisons -- to incarcerate an average daily population of 167,276 -- was therefore $7.9 billion, of which 12.2% were costs outside the corrections budget." The immensity of this amount of vital resource dedicated to the imprisoning of people is awesome and depressing. When that much money is being spent on this type of correctional attitude, it is time to realize that something is drastically wrong.
Skolnick (2011) emphasized the extent of this problem when he wrote "California's prison system, the second largest in the country, has had its budget slashed for two years running, and its prisons filled to over 160% capacity. Thirty-three of them are operating at double capacity. Temporary beds, half of which are filled by probation or parole violators, are triple stacked in gyms and classrooms and crowding out sound rehabilitation programs. Sometimes two and three inmates share a cell designed for one man. Recent court rulings have mandated the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) reduce the prison population to 137.5% capacity by 2012." The average cost to incarcerate a prisoner for a year in the California state prison system was nearly $45,000 per year. Tuition at most ivy league schools are cheaper than this cost.
According to Proposition 36 the Amendment to the Three Strike law's " the change was made to eliminate the ability of the court with certain exceptions, to send persons to prison for 25 years to life when the new felony is not serious or violent. Under the new law, if the defendant is convicted of a non-serious and non-violent felony, the court must sentence the defendant as a second-strike offender, irrespective of the number of his prior strikes. The sentence will be imposed in the traditional manner taking into account all current charges and enhancements, and applicable rules regarding consecutive and concurrent sentencing of multiple counts."
In a recent progress report concerning the effectiveness and efficiency of Prop 36 and its ability to address the issues, important information was revealed in the programs infancy stages of existence. At the time of the publishing of this report in 2013 it was noted that 1000 prisoners had been released due to the application of this new statute. While this a good way to start in many instances, it is barely a dent in the real problem at hand.
In addition to the 1000 paroled prisoners that were released there are 2000 prisoners who are eligible for relief under the new proposition but must wait to have their cases reviewed. The effects of over-incarceration are still present in these people as they are being released with little rehabilitation and hardly any resources to start a new life. While some may see this as a great opportunity to begin anew and challenge the individual into something greater, it must be admitted that most people in society are helpless without some direction or suggestion from a government or authoritative figure. In a society where self-reliance and independence is often shunned if not persecuted, a new attitude about this subject need to accompany and legislative maneuvering done by ineffective and corrupt governments.
Where I Stand
As a policy maker up for re-election is important to fully explain my position on the matters relating to the Three Strike Law that has only recently been modified by Proposition 36. While I am aware of my many constituents fears of violent crime and their concerns for seeing their tax dollars being spent in a productive manner, I feel it is important to strike a firm and clear balance on these issues.
Even as the population of California continues to grow, almost at exponential rates, the crime rates continue to drop. This may seem counter-intuitive to most people as the media will portray the world as a very violent and risky place that needs to impose coercive law enforcement to guarantee safety, but at its essence it is wrong. Even before Proposition 36 was introduced crime had begun to fall. According to the State of California Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General (2010), "Overall, since statewide crime peaked in 1992, crime rates in all three categories have been cut in half -- the rates have tumbled -58.9% for violent crime, -51.7% for property crime, and -48.5% for larceny and theft. In total, more than 1.4 million arrests were made in California in 2009, down from more than 1.9 million 20 years ago."
There appears to be a misunderstanding of the community we live in, and as a policy maker it is important that people know the truth and begin to look at the positive aspects of the justice system. Ironically since Propostion 36 had begun, a slight uptick in the crime rate in California has occurred. Cohen (2013) discussed the most recent data when he reported "In California, incidents of property crime have increased by 7.8% and the property crime rate per 100,000 Californians has increased by 6.8%. California has experienced a 3.9% increase in incidents of violent crime and a corresponding 2.9% increase in the violent crime rate."
These number should not be alarming, however it appears that the problem of crime still very much exists within the communities within the state of California. Policy is meant to guide and lead citizens into making the right choices. It is impossible task to regulate and govern each and every person so that zero crime exists. Leadership instead, should look at new ways of treating mistakes and employing the ideas of empathy and forgiveness.
The cycles of violent crime that haunt the offenders like nasty demons, possessing their souls to do the unthinkable reflects poorly upon society as a whole. As a politician up for re-election I…