When the Federalist Society is issuing dire predictions about a policy choice, I perk up. (If the Federalist Society is against something, it’s safe to assume I’ll probably approve of it.) And sure enough, it seems that amid the various disasters of the recently-concluded midterm elections, California voters did something sensible: they overwhelmingly passed Proposition 47.
Prop 47, officially named The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act of 2014, changes sentencing for certain low-level, nonviolent crimes including simple drug possession and petty theft. It also permits people who are currently incarcerated for such offenses to apply for resentencing.
Unsurprisingly, private prison operators, their political cronies, and the more punitive elements of the law enforcement establishment are predicting the End of Western Civilization as We Know It.
Financial savings are projected to be in the hundreds of millions—and those savings (largely but not entirely from reduced prison populations–hence the hysteria from the private prison folks) would be diverted into mental health and drug treatment programs, K–12 schools, and to compensate crime victims.
Americans may be beginning to come to their senses, at least where crime and punishment are concerned.
Ed Brayton notes that a broad coalition of liberal, conservative and libertarian political leaders has concluded that the tough-on-crime policies of recent decades are both costly and counterproductive.
In that view, widespread drug arrests and severe mandatory sentences are doing more to damage poor communities, especially African-American ones, than to prevent crime, and building ever more prisons that mostly turn out repeat offenders is a bad investment…
Our current, vindictive “law and order” approach to public safety has not only not made us safer, it has cost us a bundle and made us the world’s most aggressive jailers. America accounts for 5% of the world population yet we have 25% of the world’s prisoners.
According to the LA Times, the greatest effect of Proposition 47 will be in drug possession cases. California now becomes the first state in the nation to downgrade those cases from felonies to misdemeanors.
Little by little, albeit at a painfully slow pace, Americans are addressing the nation’s real addiction– to its failed and disastrous Drug War. Measures to decriminalize marijuana in several states, and now California’s tacit recognition of prohibition’s folly, signal a tardy recognition of the damage done by a counterproductive “war” that has ruined far more lives than marijuana ever could.
A little bit of sanity for a crazy time. I’ll take it.