Police Cannot Police in Liberal California

Police tapeCalifornia’s political dysfunction is directly responsible for making the state unaffordable for middle class families. The so-called “housing crisis,” the most visible and harmful manifestation of California’s unaffordability, is precisely the result of California’s policymakers inviting the welfare cases of America and the expatriates of the world to move here, at the same time as they’ve enacted environmental policies that make it extremely time consuming and expensive to build anything.

There is a parallel dysfunction in California, also entirely the creation of the political elites who run this state. That is the near impossibility of efficiently policing the state. Members of law enforcement contend with powerful transnational gangs, often sheltered from arrest by sanctuary laws. They contend with burgeoning populations of the homeless that now dominate some of California’s most cherished public spaces. How many of these homeless would find refuge with families or friends if laws didn’t prevent vagrancy enforcement? How many of them would find entry level jobs to pay a living wage if laws hadn’t made housing prohibitively expensive?

And then there are the common criminals, to be found everywhere, and bound to be numerous in a state with over 40 million residents. Here too, in the fight against ordinary crime, thanks to “progressive” state legislation, law enforcement in California fights an uphill battle.

The turning point in California’s progressive assault on law enforcement was the passage of Prop. 47 in November 2014. Supported by nearly all Democratic politicians, a smattering of naive libertarians, the ACLU, and several unions including AFSCME and SEIU California, this ballot initiative was misleadingly marketed as the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.”

Ostensibly to empty the jails of expensively housed “nonviolent” offenders, unintended consequences were felt immediately. Over four years later, the negative consequences of Prop. 47 continue to compound and intensify.

Here are some of the impacts of Prop. 47:

  • Freed tens of thousands of felons from state prisons and county jails back into communities.
  • Reduced to misdemeanors the personal use of (or being under the influence of) most illegal drugs including heroin and methamphetamine.
  • Reduced to misdemeanors any crime where the value of property stolen doesn’t exceed $950. This includes shoplifting, grand theft, receiving stolen property, forgery, and fraud.

Downgrading drug and property crimes has led to what police derisively refer to as “catch and release,” because suspects are just issued citations with a court date, and let go. Many of them don’t show up for their court dates. Habitual offenders know they’re no longer vulnerable to the “three strikes” statutes. They know that even repeated misdemeanor convictions are unlikely to land them in jail for very long. Even the liberal Washington Post reported on the impact of Prop. 47 as “A ‘virtual get-out-of-jail-free card’

California’s generous welfare and inviting sanctuary policies, combined with unaffordable housing and the most forgiving winter climate in America, mean a large homeless population is inevitable. Prop. 47, which releases inmates from prison at the same time as it makes it harder to incarcerate new offenders, inevitably adds rather than decreases the total population of California’s homeless. Recent estimates put the number of homeless in California at nearly 140,000, with the largest number, approximately 55,000, in Los Angeles County.

The concentration of homeless in Los Angeles isn’t just because it is the largest city in the state. It’s also because in 2006, the notoriously liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Jones v. City of Los Angeles ruled that law enforcement and city officials can no longer enforce the ban on sleeping on sidewalks anywhere within the Los Angeles city limits until a sufficient amount of “permanent supportive housing” could be built. And as the city bureaucrats fitfully apply grant funds that apparently can’t construct a basic apartment for much less than a half-million each, police are forced to permit massive and permanent homeless encampments which have become havens for criminals of all kinds.

Policing has become tough everywhere in California. As if the fallout from Prop. 47 and rulings such as Jones v. City of Los Angeles aren’t bad enough, now there’s something new, the “The Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015.” This law, supposedly intended to address dubious claims, especially in California, of discriminatory policing, has made it even more difficult for police to do their jobs. Each year, police departments are now required to submit to the State of California an annual report of their “stop data.” The following table, drawn from this report, shows the “Officer Reporting Requirements.”

When it comes to the practical effect of AB 953, it’s hard to find anything good. Every single time they interact with a citizen, for whatever reason, officers have to input 17 variables into a form that is either paper (four pages, requiring reentry into a database), or onto a tablet, cell phone, or in-car laptop. The mere fact that this is a time consuming process will prevent a police officer from making as many stops during a normal shift, and may deter them from even making some stops. Worse, the data collected is designed to either prove or disprove that officers in any given police department are stopping a disproportionate number of citizens who are members of “protected status groups.” Needless to say, officers, and their departments, may become reluctant to exceed their “quotas,” and as a result have an incentive to not make stops when stops are warranted.

This sort of meddling in the day to day actions of police officers does not serve the community, and it is demoralizing to officers. And it is important to emphasize that this focus on trying to prove that a disproportionate number of, say, African American, or Latinos, or other “people of color” are being “profiled,” has little or nothing to do with appropriate police oversight. There are over a million sworn police officers in the United States. It is statistically impossible for a population of individuals that large to not have a few bad apples. For this reason, and others, police tactics and police oversight should constantly evolve, and they do. That’s a good thing. But laws like AB 953, which pressure police into bringing their “stops” into conformance with ethnic and religious quotas, ignore the disproportionate reality of crime statistics, and further tie the hands of law enforcement.

California is ran by a progressive elite who have decided to sacrifice the aspirations of ordinary residents on the altar of utopian dreams. It’s not working, but they’re doubling down, and at this point there’s no end in sight.

The laws they’ve passed in virtually all areas make it harder for individual Californians to succeed. Astronomical costs for housing and tuition. Utility and gasoline prices that are the highest in the nation, and unaffordable to many. Regressive, often embedded taxes that make everything more expensive, from food to telephone bills. Then on top of that, laws that make California a magnet for welfare recipients and undocumented immigrants; laws that create an exploding population of homeless; laws that release thousands of criminals onto the streets. All of this makes crime more likely.

The last thing California’s lawmakers should be doing is making it harder for police to police. But that’s exactly what they’ve done. Things may have to get much worse, before they get better.

This article originally appeared on the website California Globe.

Recent Prop. 47 Study and Article Fail to Give Full Analysis on Crime in California

Police tapeMore people are leaving California than entering; so the question is why? Could it be higher than national average home prices, unfriendly family policies or could it be the possible uptick in crime? Underlying social pressures highlight the difficulty of staying in California and the continuance of progressive, Democratic voters to not look at the reality of what’s plaguing our state. But the patterns of who’s moving in, and who’s moving out, underline some of the social and economic pressure that have made California, and other coastal areas, so prohibitively expensive; but also progressively unsafe.

If you believe a recent article by Sal Rodriguez in the OC Register who quotes a study by University of California Irvine (UCI) professor of criminology, law & society, Charis Kubrin that concludes, “Prop. 47, didn’t have any significant uptick on crime,” then why are so many Californians complaining about increased crime while others are fleeing the state?

Before raising troubling aspects about this study, what does one part of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office, have to say about the Prop. 47 numbers? According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s Crescenta Valley Station (www.CrescentaValley.LASD.org) here are the facts about Prop. 47:

“Following the implementation of AB 109 & Prop. 47, communities across California have experienced increases in property related crimes. An 8.1% increases across the State and a 10% increase in LA County.”

So whom do you believe – Professor Kubrin and Sal Rodriguez – or the men and women who do actual law enforcement? What Professor Kubrin doesn’t point out is how Prop. 47 downgraded serious crimes such as “drug possession, repeated shoplifting, forging checks, gun theft and possession of date-rape drugs,” which were all felonies before Prop. 47’s passage. The Sheriff’s Department also states:

“A criminal can engage in recurring theft activity as long as the value of what is stolen during each theft is less than $950. Illegal drugs – including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine – have been reclassified as a misdemeanor.”

Professor Kubrin and Mr. Rodriguez – neither one – asked, studied or considered why homelessness is on the rise in Los Angeles and Los Angeles County in general though voters and Democratic elected officials have attempted to address this growing issue. Drive through downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica or San Francisco and witness the amount of strung-out homeless to belie the fact that higher dollar amounts for felonies means what once landed an addict into drug rehabilitation programs now puts them back onto the streets to the detriment of the individual, businesses, neighborhood safety and communities-at-large.

Furthermore, what the UCI study doesn’t take into affect is how Prop. 57 (the ‘Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act’) and Assembly Bill 109 (released 45,000 felons from California prisons) were passed simultaneously in 2016. To study one without factoring in the other is biased, negligent and misleading. Mr. Rodriguez and Professor Kubrin, who authored the study, should have known better, also this was nothing more than an agenda-driven piece to appeal to a lowest common denominator that will assist more Democrats being elected in 2018.

Take Prop. 57, according to the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, Prop. 57:

“Allows the State to release 30,000 criminals convicted of ‘non-violent,’ felonies and classifies these crimes as non-violent: rape by intoxication, rape of unconscious person, human trafficking involving sex act with minors, drive-by shooting, assault with a deadly weapon, hate crimes causing physical injury, and corporal injury to a child.”

Mr. Rodriguez didn’t report this and Professor Kubrin didn’t add Prop. 57 or AB 109 into her study. Shoddy research is what can be taken away from her study by not including these official reclassifying of crimes that were once felonies. Now add AB 109, which requires local jails –that don’t have the money, resources or ability – to house violent felons and what takes place is tens of thousands of supposedly low-level convicted felons back on the street; but this wasn’t added into her study or Mr. Rodriguez’s article as well. AB 109 has now taken criminals with serious felony violations and placed them in local jails instead of state prisons.

Disgust though lies at the feet of Professor Kubrin’s misleading and faulty research methods. First when you click on the actual study on the UCI website you are only given a Fact Sheet whose graphs are barely readable without being defined, definitions not put into context with Prop. 47, and most importantly on this “Fact Sheet,” how independent and dependent variables are calculated. As someone who has done studies, regressions and econometrics there is nothing of the sort in Professor Kubrin’s study.

She then states and Mr. Rodriguez blithely reports on a variable defined as “synthetic California,” that is part of the “Synthetic Control Group Study Design,” which reminds me of graduate and undergraduate studies and degree in economics where microeconomics is defined as having, “perfect competition.” Anyone who has ever held a job or attempted a business in the marketplace knows there is no such thing as “perfect competition,” just as there isn’t such a concept as “synthetic California.” And when you read the Fact Sheet the reader will find the study isn’t completed so that makes Mr. Rodriguez’s reporting misleading at best and a fire able offense at worst for so grossly understating the problems as public record.

Understanding regressions is very important, because Professor Kubrin states there was no causation or even correlation when she either doesn’t know what she’s doing running regressions or isn’t telling the truth on purpose. Regressions are used in econometrics and statistical analysis and goes back to high school geometry using the formula Y=mx+b where Y is the dependent variable and mx+b are the independent variables that either move the Y variable (causation) or merely cause them to move together along a regression line (correlation). If Professor Kubrin, Mr. Rodriguez and the entire UCI department of criminology, law & society doesn’t include AB 109 and Prop. 57 into their regressions or econometric studies then it doesn’t pass confidence interval levels. A fancy, boring regression term for how something has to be at least true 90% of the time to even warrant mentioning; and then it scales up to 95% and 99%.

To say Prop. 47 doesn’t show causation is irresponsible and she should be demoted or be made to take a graduate level econometrics and statistics for public policy analysis course. I took both and Professor Kubrin is doing the level of work that would get her kicked out of class, graduate school or possibly brought up on charges of plagiarism for gross academic violations.

Run the regressions, report on the economic analysis; and more importantly factor into the study and regressions the affects of felonious crimes going from $250 up to $950 as a variable and watch the causation affects of Prop. 47 coupled with AB 109 and Prop. 57 move upwards on the regression line into the 99% confidence interval level is what I’d predict. This is why people don’t trust universities and academics such as Drs. Victor Davis Hanson and Walter Williams believe most colleges outside of the hard sciences (accounting, engineering and medicine) have lost their way. Professor Kubrin proves that’s the case and Mr. Rodriguez shows bush league reporting without checking his sources. Next time, before reporting something, make sure the study has actually been published and more recent data was used for the study and article. Laughingly, the data used by UCI, Professor Kubrin and Mr. Rodriguez came from 2015. California should trust the L.A. County Sheriff Department over this worthless study.

Todd Royal is a geopolitical risk and energy consultant based in Los Angeles.

Innovative Incarceration Could Result in Lower Costs and Safer Citizens


PrisonThe average annual cost to house a prisoner in California is $71,000, and according to the California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, the cost has risen 45% since just 2011. And as costs have soared, California’s policymakers have resorted to creative ways to release inmates from California’s overcrowded prisons. But what if that Californian creativity could be harnessed to lower the cost of incarceration?

This process began in 2011, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California must reduce its state prison population to no more than 137% of its design capacity within two years. In an attempt to comply, the state Legislature passed Assembly Bill 109, which required non-violent, non-serious, and non-sexual offenders with sentences of longer than one year to be housed in county jail facilities rather than state prisons.

Because AB109, the so-called prison “realignment,” merely shifted costs for incarceration from the state to the counties, two additional measures of significance were passed in an attempt to reduce the overall inmate population. These were sold to voters as reform initiatives, and both of them passed with substantial majorities. Prop. 47, passed in 2014, reclassified several felonies as misdemeanors, which had the effect of reducing prison sentences in new cases, and earlier release for prisoners sentenced for crimes no longer classified as felonies. Prop. 57, passed in 2016, granted early release opportunities to inmates with good behavior who had committed non-violent crimes.

These measures resulted in the early release of tens of thousands of inmates onto California’s streets. Since enactment, violent crime has increased in California, although the data is mixed. For example, according to the FBI, while violent crime in California increased in 2015 and 2016, it increased across most of the U.S. in those years. As stated in a recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California, “California’s violent crime rate increased by 3.7% in 2016 to 444 per 100,000 residents. There have been other recent upticks in 2012 and 2015, but the statewide rate is still comparable to levels in the late 1960s.”

More recently – most crime statistics for 2017 are not yet available – the L.A. Times reports that in 2017 “in Los Angeles, homicides are down, but violent crime is up.” A big picture perspective on crime trends in California can be seen in this graphic produced by Politifact.com using data from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office:

California Crime Trends – Crime Rates per 100,000 Residents

California Crime Trends

As can be seen, rates of crime in California rose throughout the 60s and 70s, reaching a high plateau that lasted right up until around 1994, when California passed the three strikes law. After that, crime rates fell precipitously for years, reaching historic lows. Since 2014, rates of crime have been rising, even though they remain relatively low from a historical perspective.

But why should we be happy with a 0.4% rate of violent crime? Why should 4% of Californians be victimized by a violent criminal in any given decade? And who’s to say that crime rates would not have continued to decline, if it weren’t for the passage of Props. 47 and 57?

More to the point, whether or not Californians should or should not incarcerate more criminals, or impose longer sentences on criminals, Californians don’t have that option. Because it costs too much to house prisoners in California. How can California house more inmates without building more conventional prisons, which are staggeringly expensive?

An excellent resource prepared by BackgroundChecks.org shows the costs per prisoner in other states. Nevada, our neighbor to the east, only spends $17,851 per year per prisoner. Alabama has the lowest cost, at $14,780 per prisoner. Arizona, $25,397. Even Oregon and Washington, California’s left coast comrades in bloated inefficient government excess, manage to spend far less than California does, paying per prisoner costs of $44,021 and $37,841, respectively.

Why?

When you read up on costs per prisoner in other states, the results are somewhat amusing. Because in those states, the conventional wisdom is that costs are out of control. Alabama’s costs per prisoner have “doubled since 2003.” In Nevada, “overtime costs continue to mount.” Imagine that. But in all states, the same factors contribute to rising costs to house prisoners. California just spends more, in every category. Here is a table from California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office showing details of the cost per prisoner.

California’s Costs per Prisoner – Itemized Costs

Costs per prisoner

It’s likely these costs are understated. Does “Security” include the additional amounts that will be necessary to properly fund the pensions that are due our correctional officers? Does “Facility Operations” include the payments on the billions that have been borrowed by the state to construct California’s 34 state prisons?

In the recently approved California state budget for 2017-18, $11.4 billion is allocated to the Department of Corrections, up another $286 million (2.6%) from last year. But again, this doesn’t begin to represent the true cost to taxpayers. A recent UCLA study estimated the cost of incarceration for just the County of Los Angeles at nearly $1.0 billion last year.

It’s likely the total cost to California’s taxpayers to incarcerate criminals – taking into account state and local expenses – is easily twice the $11.4 billion budgeted by the state. And these inflated costs can be attributed to two causes. First, the excessive costs caused by unionized government – pensions in particular, and excessive costs to build state prisons, caused by a union controlled state legislature requiring needlessly expensive project labor agreements. Second, and arguably even more significant, the overall excessive cost-of-living in California – also a byproduct of policies enacted by California’s union controlled state legislature – which makes everything more expensive.

The burden of realignment – foisting responsibility for state prisoners back onto the counties where they were convicted – is also an opportunity. Because counties, like states in our federal system, are laboratories of democracy, laboratories of policy. Why can’t California’s counties experiment with new modes of incarceration. If inmates are sequestered to Cal Fire to work the fire lines, why can’t they do other tasks throughout the rural regions of California? Why not use inmates to improve rural access roads, remove dead trees from our drought-stressed forests, or even work in agriculture?

While many inmates may be too dangerous to do this sort of work, with new technologies to monitor and control prisoners, it is possible that prisoners who would not be viable candidates for these programs in the past would be qualified today. Electronic monitoring devices are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Why not use these devices to monitor not only location, but heart rate or, who knows, even brain waves or other physical indicators of imminent fight or flight? Wouldn’t adding additional capabilities to these devices allow more effective means to deter escape and even prevent violence? Why not use swarms of inexpensive drones to hover in the vicinity of inmates, reducing the number of guards required, and replacing some or all layers of expensive security fencing? Why not equip these drones with nonlethal means to prevent escape or violence?

Law enforcement has stayed abreast of new technologies and that is one of the reasons rates of crime are down sharply across America. While the impact of new technologies must be constantly scrutinized, and some of them may be problematic, there is no reason not to extend these tools beyond law enforcement into the corrections industry. It’s reasonable to assume most inmates would prefer a virtual prison to the penitentiary. One that afforded them mobility, equal or greater safety, a mission, a chance to engage in a vocation, and fresh air. Such innovation might also bring welcome relief to taxpayers.

Will New Initiative Add to Current Crime Problem?

Photo credit: Michael Coghlan via Flickr

Photo credit: Michael Coghlan via Flickr

At about the same time Gov. Jerry Brown was explaining his new initiative to reform the determinate sentencing law, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell was telling Town Hall Los Angeles that law enforcement was facing a losing battle with crime. The sheriff argued that ballot measures back to Proposition 36 in 2000 easing drug punishment through Proposition 47 voiding prison for some felonies and AB109 prison realignment have led to increased crime.

Will Brown’s new initiative proposal add to the crime problem by making it easier for non-violent offenders to gain parole?

Sen. Jim Nielsen thinks so. He stated in a press release: “Violent and property crimes have increased in cities across the state from Sacramento to Los Angeles. Weakening the criminal justice system will only increase the victimization of California citizens.”

Nielsen laid the fault in the crime increase at Proposition 47, which reduced many felonies and misdemeanors, allowing arrestees to escape the threat of prison.

Sheriff McDonnell said he supported the spirit of what Prop. 47 was trying to do but fixes are needed because it is not working. Prior to Prop. 47, a criminal arrested for stealing goods valued less than $950, or on certain drug charges, faced either time in jail or a treatment program. McDonnell said the leverage of jail time no longer exists. People know they won’t get locked up for a theft under $950, he said.

The sheriff said the AB109 prison re-alignment law put state prison inmates in county jails, which are not equipped to handle them. Jails are intended to house people pre-trial, not to house long-term prisoners, McDonnell said. One state prisoner shifted to the L.A. county jail is serving a 42-year term.

The realignment program was designed to free up space in state prisons. Brown’s proposed initiative would further that goal by giving judges and parole boards more discretion.

Allowing judges to judge specific circumstances and mete out appropriate justice is a common sense philosophy.

But at what cost to public safety?

While McDonnell said it wasn’t his intention to bash Prop. 47, he noted that crime in the county was up 11.2 percent over the last year with 40 percent of those freed under Prop. 47 re-arrested. One individual has been re-arrested 22 times.

McDonnell said he wanted to work with Prop. 47 supporters to meet the goals of the initiative while at the same time adding fixes that return incentive and disincentives for individuals to obey the law.

One Prop. 47 supporter who listened to the sheriff speak was Tom Hoffman, a long time law enforcement official who serves as a Senior Public Safety Adviser for the non-profit Californians for Safety and Justice, an organization that advocated for Proposition 47.

Hoffman took exception to the sheriff putting responsibility of increased crime on Prop. 47. Hoffman said crime statistics all across the country have gone up about the same rate as in California.

Given reports of increased crime issued by the police and a recent spike in gun sales, it can be assumed citizens of California feel less safe. Yet, the governor’s initiative is counting on a changed attitude toward crime and punishment as indicated by the passage of Proposition 47 and the Three Strike law reform.

A couple of months ago I wrote that a spike in crime could bring back the rise of politicians like former Gov. George Deukmejian who rode a tough-on-crime image to high state offices. If the Brown gambit adds to the perception that crime is increasing because of government actions there likely could be a political push-back.

Employment Struggles for Ex-Offenders New Focus of CA Legislation

The good news is that the California Department of Corrections offers program to help inmates become opticians.

The bad news is that there are four different state statutes that allow the state to refuse to license an ex-offender as an optician, established in explicit language in the law.

It’s the riddle of reform, as California’s prison inmate population dropped 17 percent between 2005 and 2014 while the number of individuals on parole dipped 61 percent.

Where do they go, though?

Ineligible for employment

Both stats are relatively sunny reflections on Gov. Brown and the state Assembly’s effort to reduce both crime and criminals.

Among other things, the state hiked credits toward early release for non-violent and minimum custody offenders and established a new parole system for non-violent second time criminals.

But if you’re looking for a job and have been convicted of a crime involving a controlled substance – and this includes marijuana– forget about getting work on an ambulance crew, a litter van, or a wheelchair van. You could become a real estate broker, a midwife or a speech pathologist, but you’d have to make a case for it.

Any misdemeanor will keep you from working at as a smog check station attendant, a locksmith, a repo man or board member of a humane society.

The information comes from a database assembled by the American Bar Association. Users can search dictates in each state for how a conviction of a variety of crimes can affect a person’s ability to get a job, a business license, a judicial position, housing, education and 10 other endeavors.

The findings can be comforting – someone with a felony conviction can’t serve on a grand jury – and amusing, as a felon is also ineligible to participate in the cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions.

Contradictions in law

The database also exposes the contradictions in the law regarding employment restrictions on inmates. In California, “not much work has been done on fixing the employment and licensure issues,” said W. David Ball, an associate professor at Santa Clara University School of Law.

“These laws are generally written broadly, and there are laws that are easy to understand, like you would not want someone who was involved with financial fraud to be a CPA,” Ball said. “But it makes no sense that someone convicted of drunk driving can’t be a cosmetologist.”

The ABA database is part of a broad effort to loosen restrictions on ex-offenders. There is a national move to create a bill in all states forcing them to examine their laws regarding ex-offenders and employment. Advocates claim passage would bring recidivism rates down.

In California, 61 percent of felons returned to prison within three years, according to a 2014 annual state report on recidivism.

The study found that “inmates committed to prison for property crimes consistently recidivate at a higher rate than those committed for other types of crimes, including crimes against persons, drug crimes, and ‘other’ crimes.”

The move to a national retooling of restrictions on ex-offenders is not welcomed by all parts of the legal community.

Too soft on criminals?

“This was like a liberal do-gooder thing,” James Bopp, a Terre Haute, Ind., lawyer told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. “The law is constructed in a way to grossly favor the criminal who is seeking relief from these collateral effects of their conviction.”

The passage in November of Proposition 47 pruned the ranks of the incarcerated even more, as the law softened criminal classifications for some crimes including drug possession and shoplifting. It also made the theft and reception of stolen goods under $950 a misdemeanor.

Under Prop. 47, part of the projected $400 million to $700 million projected to be saved statewide by cutting down on the state’s incarceration bill is to be spent on mental health and substance abuse services.

Such services, while they can help treat an ex-offender, also exclude the ex-offender community: A misdemeanor conviction excludes a person from becoming a vocational nurse, treating an adolescent in a drug treatment program or obtaining a psychiatric technician license.

Additional legislation

Lawmakers are still making adjustments to the effects of the bill, plugging holes and shaping the mandate. Some are concerned that a provision in the measure would allow the theft of a gun to be lumped in with stealing a bag of Twizzlers in the under $950 category.

A measure authored by state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani is winding its way through the statehouse, seeking to fix that, making the theft of any firearm a crime not subject to the parameters of Prop. 47.

Another bill, SB205, looks to fund a university study of the effects of Prop. 47.

Still another bill, SB527, seeks to allocate money from the expected corrections savings for truancy and dropout prevention, funding over four jobs for that task alone.

Collateral consequences are also often unintended consequences, said Ball, the associate professor at the Santa Clara law school.

“I’d like to raise the bar higher so you have to make a case for ‘why not?’ rather than reasons to impose,” Ball said. “These collateral consequences really do prevent people from starting over.”

Steve Miller can be reached at 517-775-9952 and [email protected]. His website is www.Avalanche50.com

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Gov. Brown Walks the Budget Tightrope

jerry-brownGov. Jerry Brown has unveiled the highly-anticipated revision to his annual state budget, teeing up final spending negotiations in Sacramento — largely with his fellow Democrats.

Despite a resurgence in California’s fiscal fortunes, including tax receipts some $2 billion in excess of estimates, “analysts are warning that California could be headed for more fiscal headaches as soon as next year,” the Wall Street Journal observed. “The state is constitutionally required to spend more on public education as revenue increases. This year’s revenue will establish a spending base for next year, meaning it could be harder for the state to balance its budget if the state’s income declines.”

Brown has made his reputation as governor holding the line on spending against steady pressure from his left. But Brown’s own favorite projects, including California’s high-speed rail plan, received his unwavering support, even drawing money away from expenditures favored by activists.

A selective windfall

Now, Brown has chosen to walk the budget tightrope in a way that will encourage his more profligate allies. Beneficiaries of Brown’s revised budget were set to include poorer Californians, unlawful immigrants and college students, as the San Jose Mercury News reported:

“With billions in better-than-expected revenue, Brown unveiled a $115.3 billion general fund spending plan that creates the state’s first-ever ‘earned income tax credit’ and would pay for Medi-Cal for some immigrants living in the state illegally.”

Brown’s revision also slipped in the results of a long-belabored deal with UC President Janet Napolitano, “who had demanded tens of millions of dollars more for her system to stave off 5 percent tuition hikes in each of the next five years,” as the Mercury News recalled.

But the revised budget plan went well beyond those measures, touching policy areas that have bedeviled Brown throughout much of his time in office.

Prison reform

Brown, for instance, used the revision to forge ahead with reforms to California’s prison system, which has been a virtual albatross around his neck since the Supreme Court ordered the state to reduce its crowded incarcerated population.

As the Los Angeles Times reported, the new budget revision “calls for shrinking the number of inmates housed outside California in the next year by 4,000 — reducing related state spending by $73 million. As of this week, the state had a little more than 8,000 inmates in private prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma, and another 6,250 prisoners in contracted lockups within the state.”

According to the Times, the cuts became possible because of the impact of Proposition 47, which thinned prisons’ ranks largely by slashing penalties and jail time for drug-related offenses. As CalWatchdog previously reported, although relatively few donors fueled the measure, Prop. 47 won the support of a substantial majority of voters in November.

Mixed reactions

In what has become a hallmark of his tenure in office, reactions to Brown’s adjusted numbers mixed praise with criticism. “We applaud the governor for putting money back into the pockets of those who work hard every day and pay their taxes – it’s the right move,” remarked Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, according to the Sacramento Bee. But, she added, Brown’s tax credit “will not end widespread poverty. That’s why Assembly Republicans have offered straightforward solutions to reform education and support the modern economy so every Californian can boost their earnings and quality of life.”

From the other side of the aisle, some Democrats registered disappointment with the limitations of Brown’s agreement on school funding. “We are pleased UC students and their families will avoid paying higher tuition next year,” said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles. “But CSU, the workhorse of our higher education system, has been shortchanged. We have to support both of our public institutions of higher learning to make sure college is accessible to as many Californians as possible.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Prop. 47 Amendment — Common Sense Gun Policy

Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) recently introduced Assembly Bill 150, which would amend California’s Proposition 47. Before the passage of Prop. 47, the stealing of any firearm was considered felony grand theft. Now that Prop. 47 has been enacted, the charge has been reduced to a misdemeanor as long as the gun is valued under $950. AB150 would amend that provision in Prop. 47, which would reinstate the felony grand theft charge, regardless of the gun’s value.

If the bill passes both houses, it would be included on the 2016 ballot as a stand-alone provision that voters could either reaffirm or reject.

“Currently, the legislature is pushing for hasher gun control laws for law-abiding citizens and it doesn’t make sense that we would relax the penalty for gun-stealing criminals,” Melendez explains. “Criminals don’t steal guns to go duck hunting; they steal guns to commit crimes.”

The bill Melendez has proposed is a common sense bill that should pass our Legislature. No one wants guns in the hands of criminals. And we all know that any one who steals someone else’s gun is, more than likely, going to use that gun for a criminal act.

Because most handguns are under $950, very few criminals would see the felony grand theft charge.

I give Assemblywoman Melendez credit for this bill. To bring gun legislation to the California Assembly is a bold move, but it’s one that would protect responsible gun owners.

In the words of the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Gun owners thank you, Assemblywoman Melendez. Now it’s up to us, the voters, to encourage our representatives to pass this legislation and get it on the 2016 ballot.

Prop. 47 — CA no longer tough on crime?

Thanks to a new ballot measure, Proposition 47, voters in California could soon eliminate the last vestiges of the state’s tough-on-crime reputation. In a sea change from the 1990s, when high-profile, grisly crimes seized the state’s attention, Californians have helped drive the national conversation about criminal justice toward a kinder, gentler approach.

But the reality propelling interest in the new measure is that California has proven unable to effectively run its prison system the way that courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court — have demanded.

Major changes

Proposition 47 landed on the ballot with the backing of San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne. If the measure passes, the most frequent current crimes that carry felony convictions will be downgraded to misdemeanors. Prison time will be lowered, too, for such crimes to one year at most from the current three-year maximum.

That, as the Los Angeles Times reported, would be good news for Californians convicted of “drug possession, petty theft, possession of stolen goods, shoplifting, forgery and writing bad checks.” Those crimes made up 58,000 of the Golden State’s 202,000 felony convictions (based on 2012 figures, the most recent available). “Analysts say about 40,000 such cases would be reduced to misdemeanors; the initiative exempts offenses involving more than $950 and people with criminal records that include violence or sex offenses.”

The arguments for and against Prop. 47 haven’t surprised many California residents. On the one hand, it has long been common knowledge that California’s incarcerated population is high — by absolute measures, and relative to other states’ levels. In a black eye for Gov. Jerry Brown, his administration has been ensnared by the courts in a complex and awkward process called “realignment,” a way of shifting inmates from crowded state prisons into the county jail system.

On the other hand, Californians have not forgotten their state’s more sensational and frightening crimes. One of the worst even received mention during the recent gubernatorial debate between Brown and Neel Kashkari, his Republican challenger.

To ease overcrowding, California released Jerome Sidney DeAvila from prison; soon thereafter, in 2013 he committed a heinous crime involving rape and murder. The state’s police chiefs’ association has decried Prop. 47, saying the “dangerous and radical” measure will “endanger Californians.”

Easing up on convictions and sentencing would give California’s justice system a much-needed reprieve as it struggles to obey court orders to de-crowd. Yet it would be certain to ratchet up the risk of more violent crime — perhaps to a historic degree. In short, Prop. 47 has become associated with two different outcomes, one which many Californians desire, and one which none do.

An unprecedented coalition

With the measure poised between competing outcomes, its fate in November may come down to a public relations campaign. Oftentimes, ballot measures sink or swim depending on how voters view their fiscal implications.

Not so with Prop. 47. Although it would save the state some money, the amount recouped — a few hundred million dollars — would be a relative trifle given the size of California’s budget of more than $100 billion a year for the general fund.

That has placed a premium on presentation for Prop. 47’s key supporters. In fact, the coalition of activists and public figures behind Prop. 47 has raised eyebrows nationwide — suggesting that America’s traditional political battle lines have been scrambled when it comes to criminal justice reform.

Liberal and progressive support for a softer approach to crime has, predictably, given Prop. 47 a substantial push; George Soros’ Open Society Policy Center, based in Washington, D.C., kicked in $1 million.

At the same time, observers took special notice when former Republican U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, also a 2012 presidential candidate, teamed with billionaire Wayne Hughes to promote Prop. 47 in an opinion piece for the Times. If conservative-heavy states in the South could reform their own prison systems, claimed Gingrich and Hughes, surely California could as well.

The voters will have their say on Nov. 4.

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com

Three Ballot Initiatives, Not Quite As Awful As Usual

You gotta take your good news where you can get it when it comes to California’s dangerously inflexible system of initiative and referendum. So this year’s three ballot initiative – Propositions 45, 46, and 47 – qualify as good news.

It might be more precise to say: those three initiatives are less awful than usual.

I’m not talking about the policy substance of the initiatives – which involve health insurance rate regulation (45), liability for medical errors and some other things (46) or criminal charges and sentencing (47). One can make arguments for and against those policies. But the issues and the policies aren’t the first question you should ask about California ballot initiatives. The correct first question is, instead: is it possible to fix the errors in these things?

The default for California initiatives is to not permit fixing – or amendment – by the legislative body at all. We’re the only place on earth where this inflexibility is standard on initiative statutes. And it’s the fundamental problem of the process; once you do something by initiative, there’s little you can do to undo it.

Which brings us to the good – well, the not-so-awful news. All three of these measures depart from the norm by permitting legislative amendment. For that, their sponsors should be praised.

The praise shouldn’t be all that strong. Because the initiatives don’t make legislative amendment easy. All three require a super-majority vote of 2/3 – thus creating new supermajorities in supermajority-mad California – to amend the measure, and require such amendments meet the spirit of the initiative. Prop 47 also permits the legislature to use a majority vote to further reduce sentences of the crimes mentioned in the act.

These three initiatives also don’t include a reckless provision that has become a new standard of sorts for initiatives – provisions giving legal standing and a black check to the initiative’s own sponsors to defend their own measure in court. Effectively such provisions turn initiative sponsors into mini-attorneys general. Fortunately, none of the three initiatives on the ballot has any such provision.

Yes, this is a low bar – permitting fixes and not writing legal blank checks – but when it comes to California initiatives, you must lower your expectations.

This article was originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily

Joe Mathews is a Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Murder victims’ relatives debate Prop. 47

At 11 p.m. on July 25, 2005 San Leandro police officer Nels “Dan” Niemi was called to the scene of a disturbance on Doolittle Drive. Niemi stopped Irving Ramirez, of Newark, who had spent the day drinking a bottle of Hennessy cognac to celebrate his 23rd birthday.

When Niemi turned away, Ramirez pulled out a gun, shot him in the head and pumped six more bullets into his body as he lay on the ground. Niemi, 42, left behind a wife and two children. Ramirez is on death row.

Would Niemi still be alive, and would career criminal Ramirez instead be living a productive life as a law-abiding citizen, if years earlier Ramirez had been provided drug and alcohol treatment and career counseling rather than being suspended from school and cycling in and out of jail?

Niemi’s widow, Dionne Wilson, thinks so. She told her story in support of Proposition 47 at a joint Public Safety Committee informational hearing last week.

Prop. 47 would reduce certain felony crimes to misdemeanors, resulting in fewer incarcerations and shorter sentences for many criminals. Nearly two-thirds of the several hundred millions of dollars expected to be saved by reducing the state prison and county jail population would go to mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, a quarter would go to K-12 schools and the remaining 10 percent to trauma recovery services for crime victims.

Cop family

“I want to tell you why this proposition is so important to me,” Wilson told the committee on Oct. 2. “In 2005 I was a part of a typical cop family. I was living in Milpitas with my husband and six-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son. Dan was in his third year as a police officer with San Leandro. We celebrated our favorite holiday, Fourth of July, together. Then 10 days later we celebrated my son’s 15th birthday.

“That night I got that knock on my door. Every police wife knows it can happen to her, but nobody thinks that it will. Two days before my 36th birthday I buried my husband. And so it really shattered my conception about public safety. Because I had always thought that as long as our prisons are as full as they could possibly be, that we are safe. And that’s a lie. And I was told that the death penalty verdict would bring me healing. And that was a lie.

“My life took a really, really dark turn. For the next 4-½ years I was so full of hate and vengeance I just didn’t know what to do with myself. I was ruining my own life, ignoring my children and nothing positive was coming out of what happened to my family.”

She turned her life around by joining Californians for Safety and Justice. The nonprofit describes its mission as “replac[ing] prison and justice system waste with common sense solutions that create safe neighborhoods and save public dollars.”

Wilson became a founding member of CSJ’s Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, which she said has nearly 6,000 members in California. And she signed the ballot arguments in favor of Prop. 47.

Communities

“I have met with so many different crime victims from so many different communities,” said Wilson. “And we all share the same wish. We all wish this to never, ever happen to anyone ever again. We are all committed to making changes in the system that will start to chip away at this cycle of violence that we are creating with the way our criminal justice system works right now.

“Why this is really important to me is because during the trial I learned that Irving has been cycling in and out of the system for years since he was a teenager. Substance abuse problems, alcohol problems, violence problems.

“These things kept occurring in his life, but the answer that was given to that was jail sentences. In and out of supervision with no treatment. With no safety net for his mom to get him into some kind of program at school, something to get him interested and find his passion.”

“It’s because we keep saying, ‘We don’t have the money. There’s no money for treatment, there’s no money for diversion programs.’ I just disagree. It’s the focus of where we’re putting our money that’s the problem.

“By reducing these low-level, nonviolent [felony] offenses [to misdemeanors], the savings that we’re going to realize will make it so that money is available to help people like Irving’s mom keep him on the right track, keep guns out of his hands, so this tragedy doesn’t strike another family.

“At some point we have to say to each other, ‘We cannot keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. We have to change what it is that we are doing.’ What if there was a program much like the ones that Prop. 47 would fund in Irving’s school when he was getting suspended, when he was getting kicked out of school?

“What if there was a drug or alcohol treatment program available when he was going in and out of the system? How might my life be different? I think that it would be much better for my husband to still be serving his community as a police officer in San Leandro than me sitting here today asking California to help change what we are doing.”

Victims

But not all family members of murder victims see Prop. 47 as the solution.

On Sept. 3. 1979, Harriet and Mike Salarno dropped off their 18-year-old daughter Catina Rose Salarno at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, where she was starting school to study dentistry. They never saw her alive again. That evening she was shot in the head by her ex-boyfriend, Steven Burns, with whom she had broken off a relationship that summer.

Burns was sentenced to 17 years-to-life in prison. Every few years the Salarnos have shown up at Burns’ parole hearings to urge the parole board to keep him behind bars.

In 1990, Harriet Salerno founded Crime Victims United, which has as its mission “to support and strengthen public safety, promote balance in the criminal justice system, and protect the rights of victims” by strengthening sentencing laws and creating more effective rehabilitation and re-entry programs.

“Proposition 47, the so-called Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, does everything except keep our neighborhoods safe and our schools safe,” Salarno told the committee. “The proponents of this measure have already admitted that Prop. 47 will make 10,000 felons eligible for early release.

“According to the independent analyst, the vast majority of those felons have violent criminal histories. We are talking about felons convicted of carjacking, armed robbery, bank robbery, residential burglary, kidnapping, drug trafficking, just to name a few. Persons convicted of these very serious felonies will be released onto our street if Prop. 47 passes.

“These offenders will not be placed on parole nor given access to the programs that are needed to assimilate back into society in order to break the cycle they are in. When a career criminal steals a firearm or a suspected sexual predator possesses a date-rape drug or a carjacker steals yet another vehicle, there needs to be another option besides just another misdemeanor.

“This will, of course, lead to more victims. We are one of the groups that would love to go out of business. Unfortunately, If Prop. 47 passes, we will have a long, hard, wrenching future. How anyone can say the release of 10,000 felons for serious crimes will reduce crime and make our neighborhoods and schools safe is beyond basic logic.

“We must face the reality that there are some bad people in this world. There must be serious consequences for serious crimes. We as a civil society trying to protect its people cannot simply allow them to do this over and over to our citizens without serious consequences.”

Help

In a YouTube video, Wilson argued for providing more help for crime victims. “Most victims don’t have any help,” she said. “We want to give them psychological counseling, some trauma support so they can put their lives back together.”

But Salarno noted that 10 percent of the money – what she called “a token amount” – expected to be generated by Prop. 47 is slated for crime victims. And she argued the influx of more victims that will result from the criminal release will overburden already overloaded trauma centers.

“I can attest on behalf of all victims, if you truly want to help us, then keep these violent offenders behind bars and do not add to our numbers,” she said.

Prop. 47 received 62 percent support in a Public Policy Institute of California poll of 1,702 adults conducted in the second week of September.

In the partisan breakdown, Democrats favored the initiative 69 to 22; Republicans backed it 50 to 32; and Independents favored it 64 to 25.

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com.