Three propositions on California’s ballot would change elements of the criminal justice system. There tends to be an extraordinarily high level of misinformation on questions about how government deals with crime, for the simple reason that crime is scary, and fear fundamentally changes the rational thought process. Below are calming antidotes to the top fear-mongering tactics on the three criminal justice propositions. Proposition 5: The Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act This proposition would re-dedicate criminal justice resources to proven rehabilitation programs and implement parole reforms to address the staggeringly high recidivism rate that is breaking California’s prison system. Proposition 5 would continue and expand drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration for non-violent drug offenders. The big lie: “The fatal flaw in this otherwise decent measure would allow criminals to use their drug offense for leniency for other non-drug-related crimes.” Fact: Nobody who has ever been charged with a serious or violent felony and no one who has been recently convicted of felony offenses in general, other than nonviolent drug possession, would be eligible for diversion to drug treatment under Proposition 5. In the case that a defendant is concurrently charged with a nonviolent drug possession offense and another offense, they can be diverted to treatment only if the judge makes a special exception for them based on evidence of a serious drug problem and the judge’s determination that public safety is best served by getting the defendant immediate treatment. Reason’s analysis of Proposition 5 is here. Proposition 6: Police and Law Enforcement Funding, Criminal Penalties and Laws This proposition makes approximately 30 revisions to California criminal law, creating multiple new crimes and additional penalties, in a system that is already over-complicated with more than 1,000 felony sentencing laws and over 100 felony sentencing enhancements. The big lie: “Crime, gangs, and violence are taking over our streets. Between 1999 and 2006, while the national homicide rate declined, California’s murder rate increased–accounting for nearly 500 more murders per year.” Fact: The violent crime rate in California has decreased by more than half in the last 15 years. Despite population growth, there were 321 fewer homicides in 2007 than there were in 1997. California’s highest single-year murder rate was in 1980, when there were 14.4 homicides per 100,000 population. The homicide rate has steadily decreased since then to 6.0 per 100,000 population last year–back to the level that it was in 1968. Proponents of Proposition 6 have cherry-picked data from a few arbitrary years to scare voters. Proposition 9: Criminal Justice System, Victims’ Rights, Parole. This proposition amends California’s existing Victim’s Bill of Rights, which was approved by voters in 1982. The many changes can be seen side-by-side in a chart prepared by the Prison Law Office, here. The big lie: “Proposition 9 would require that victims’ and their families’ safety be considered by judges making bail decisions, and that crime victims be notified if their offenders are released.” Fact: Public safety is already required to be the primary consideration when setting bail. Victims are already notified if offenders who committed serious and/or violent crimes against them are released. Proponents have loaded Proposition 9 with many victims’ rights provisions that sound good, that are already state law in order to provide cover for other provisions that would erode 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection. If the proposition passed, parolees would no longer have the right to legal counsel or the right to cross-examine and challenge witness testimony, and could no longer block hearsay from being used as evidence in certain proceedings. Reason’s voter guide has more information on all the California propositions.
Skaidra Smith-Heisters is a policy analyst at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.